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Groundbreaking conference puts cannabis high on the agenda

Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu says cannabis needs to be understood first before legalising it.

FILE: The discussion is over whether Cannabis should be used for medicinal purposes or not. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - Deputy Minister of Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu says South Africans must take part in the discussion over the medicinal use of cannabis and the parliamentary process on whether the substance should be legalised.

A two-day conference on the use of medicinal cannabis is underway in Benoni.

Bogopane-Zulu has addressed the Central Drug Authority (CDA), health experts, religious groups and a United Nations delegation on the presence of cannabis in South Africa and how it's been decriminalised overseas.

The discussion is the first of its kind in South Africa and is meant to serve as a precursor to debates on the medical innovation bill in Parliament.

Bogopane-Zulu says discussions at the round-table gathering will lay the basis for the parliamentary debate.

"It is important that there is a level of awareness to enable south Africans to participate effectively, and efficiently, and that is what we are doing in this room in the next two days."

She says it's too early to have a discussion on whether the substance should be legalised because it first needs to be understood.

"Because as a legislator standing here I think it's too early to even have that discussion, when there isn't a broader understanding on what this tree plant seed motekwane is about. And to what extend is it helpful or harmful."

The conference follows the introduction of the medical innovation bill in Parliament by the late Inkatha Freedom Party member of Parliament Mario Ambrosini, who admitted to using cannabis to treat his cancer.

The CDA's Mogotsi Kalaemodimo welcomed delegates earlier.

"Statistics of people who have been admitted to treatment centres indicate that the majority of them are admitted for alcohol and dagga."

Kalaemodimo has also called for cool heads during the discussion, as it is an emotive issue.

"We are aware that emotions may be high but we are requesting our people to manage that. We need to respect other people's views, and we need to express our views as much as we can."

Yesterday, the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) said it was rethinking their allegiance with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Pagad wrote a letter to the party questioning their views on the legalisation of cannabis in the country.

Pagad's deputy national co-ordinator Haroon Orrie said their concern comes from the EFF's opinions on the matter in last year's National Assembly.

Orrie said they would break all ties with the EFF should they find the party was in favour of legalising cannabis for recreational purposes.

"We can never be part of a joint venture in ridding our society of gangsterism and drugs when an organisation wants to legalise cannabis for recreational use. If that should be the case, we would have to sever ties."