ZA: Unique opportunities in the cannabis sector and the bioprospecting economy

In August 2020, the draft Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill was published in South Africa, providing for the regulation of cannabis for home use and cultivation. While there is still no commercial framework for cannabis in the country, South Africa has a bioprospecting regulatory framework that supports commercialisation of the entire cannabis value chain. As cannabis is a plant in which South Africa is well endowed, unlocking this industry will greatly benefit the bioprospecting economy.

The legalisation of cannabis has enjoyed vocal support from Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who has said he is eager to unlock the economic potential of cannabis cultivation and believes it could contribute as much as ZAR4-billion to the economy.

In South Africa, cannabis for medical use is regulated by the Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1965 (“Medicines Act”). The Medicines Act mandates the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (“SAHPRA”) to regulate the availability of quality medicines, which are safe and efficacious for their intended use and to apply standards for the manufacturing, distribution, selling and marketing of medicines, medical devices and scheduled substances, including cannabis.

The cultivation, manufacturing and use of medicinal cannabis may occur once a potential cannabis grower or producer has obtained a licence issued by SAHPRA and a permit issued by the Department of Health. Medical practitioners may apply to SAHPRA for permission to access and prescribe unregistered medicines including cannabis when intended to treat their patients. It is important to note that SAHPRA will grant access to cannabis for medical purposes only in exceptional circumstances, to specific patients under proper medical supervision.


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