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Marijuana use in South Africa: what next after landmark court ruling?

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South Africa’s Constitutional Court has delivered a unanimous judgment that certain parts of the country’s drug laws are inconsistent with the right to privacy. Adults are now allowed to use, possess or cultivate cannabis in private for their own personal consumption.

The court gave some broad guidelines about what this would mean in practice. But it has left the details to Parliament.

This is an important victory for human rights and common sense. It also matters to the almost 300 000 people who are arrested for drug-related crimes each year, mostly for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

But there is much more work to be done to design a humane and rational system to regulate cannabis. Some of the key issues that will need to be addressed include how far privacy extends, exactly what products should be regulated, how non-users will be protected, and what to do about the existing criminal market.

The measure of privacy

Significantly, this change came after a legal challenge in support of the right to privacy. It did not result from a popular vote or from a shift in government policy, based on public health principles. This means the new regulatory system will need to look quite different to two of the existing models in the world.

The first is the commercialised system developing in parts of the US, where businesses sell cannabis in much the same way as alcohol. The other is the medicalised model of Uruguay, where cannabis can be bought without prescription at pharmacies.

Other countries can offer more appropriate comparisons. Jamaica has set its limits at possession of 2oz (56.6g) and the cultivation of up to five plants on any premises. Colombia’s limits are 20g or up to 20 plants. Spain’s limits are rather less clear, and must take into account the circumstances of the case, but plants should not be visible from the street.

An important question is whether South Africa will allow cannabis social clubs – structures for the non-profit production and distribution of cannabis among a closed group of adults. This is the “Spanish model”, which is currently in a precarious legal position at home but enjoys significant expert support, either as a permanent position or as a transitional model while more formally regulated production systems are developed. Such clubs should enjoy the same protection on the basis of privacy, although their regulation introduces additional complications.

Parliamentarians will also have to decide on what substances will be included in the law. Will it extend to hashish (a concentrated resin made from cannabis), cannabis oils, or synthetic cannabinoids? And should the court’s reasoning not be extended to other substances that have been judged by experts to present less harm than alcohol?

Preventing harm to others

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The prevention of impaired driving is a reasonable concern. Given the difficulty in physiologically measuring cannabis intoxication, there will be a need to formalise rules on field sobriety testing. Parliament will have to keep abreast of emerging evidence. Clear public messaging should be developed to communicate that cannabis-impaired driving is illegal and risky.

Another concern is the protection of minors. Regular cannabis use does seem to pose risks for adolescent brain development, so it is important that the country works out how best to discourage its consumption among or near children.

Commercialisation question

One criticism of the private cultivation and use model – such as the one in Spain – is that it forgoes the possible benefits of a more open regulated and commercialised system. This includes prospects for purity and potency controls, economic and employment growth, and tax revenues that can be earmarked for programmes to help mitigate cannabis-related risks and harms.

The approach envisioned by the South African Constitutional Court also has the disadvantage that it leaves intact the criminal market that supplies those who don’t meet its restrictions. Not every prospective cannabis user will be willing or reasonably able to grow their own plants or to join a cannabis club. So, there will still be a role for organised criminal groups to reap profits.

And there will still be a need for police enforcement. But it will involve even greater scope for discretion and possible corruption. The country will need to guard against a “net-widening” effect, where policy liberalisation ends up drawing even more people into conflict with the criminal justice system. South Africa will also need to interrogate whether it is still justifiable for people to be jailed for supplying a product that consumers have a right to possess.

Finally, there is the question of the many people who have been criminalised for an activity that is now considered an expression of a basic constitutional right. The court was clear that its judgment was not to be applied retrospectively. However, other jurisdictions – as in the US – have already begun offering pardons on request or discussing whether pardons should happen en masse.

Not a free-for-all, but an excellent start

Those cannabis campaigners and aficionados who were hoping for a Colorado-style boom in consumer options would have been disappointed. On balance, however, this may be a good thing, at least in the interim. Many policy reform experts warn of the dangers of over-commercialisation.

Putting the supply of a risky product in the hands of profit-maximising private interests with little interest in public health is not a recipe for success. In this, the history of alcohol and tobacco control provide a useful lesson.The Conversation

Anine Kriegler, Researcher and Doctoral Candidate in Criminology, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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