North-West University (NWU) academic Prof Leepile Sehularo addressed the contentious issue of marijuana legalisation in South Africa during his inaugural lecture on 20 September 2023.
Under the theme "Legalisation of marijuana: The debate continues," Prof Sehularo provided a thorough examination of the profound implications of the ongoing debate.
Despite the Constitutional Court's ruling that legalised marijuana for private use by adults, Prof Sehularo stressed the responsibility of medical and healthcare professionals to educate society about the potential negative consequences of marijuana, particularly among young people and non-smokers.
The lecture commenced with a focus on the legislative framework. Prof Sehularo emphasised that, according to the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill (2020), it remains illegal for minors to smoke or consume marijuana. Additionally, it is prohibited for adults to smoke or possess marijuana in public places visible to the general public.
"Understanding these legal boundaries is crucial, especially given the potential risks associated with marijuana use," he said.
Prof Sehularo further highlighted the inherent dangers of marijuana use. "Marijuana is a hazardous substance that should be avoided at all costs, particularly by young people," he cautioned.
He revealed that, since the legalisation of marijuana in the country, there has been a dramatic increase in individuals seeking assistance and being admitted to mental health care institutions.
Prof Sehularo substantiated his claims with scientific evidence, explaining that marijuana use has been linked to various mental health issues. Users face a heightened risk of experiencing temporary psychotic disorders and enduring mental disorders, including schizophrenia.
He then went on to explore the adverse effects of marijuana, including its association with social anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and actual suicides.
"Studies have demonstrated a clear correlation between marijuana use and an increased likelihood of experiencing social anxiety, depression, and even engaging in suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or committing suicide," said Prof Sehularo.
He also raised concerns about the state of mental health care in South Africa, including insufficient mental health care institutions, poor infrastructure, overcrowding, and shortages of mental health specialists. He emphasised that prevention is preferable to cure, especially considering the difficulties associated with quitting marijuana once addiction sets in.
“Let's consider the detrimental effects on public health and mental well-being when engaging in the marijuana legalisation debate.”
The legalisation of marijuana remains a contentious issue in South Africa. Prof Sehularo's inaugural lecture has added significant depth to the ongoing discourse regarding the potential consequences and responsibilities associated with this complex matter.
Prof Sonia Swanepoel, deputy vice-chancellor for community engagement and Mahikeng Campus operations, hands Prof Leepile Sehularo his inaugural address certificate.