Gov’t Bodies Disagree On Proposal To Legalize Cannabis Growing In Uganda

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Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies – MDAs have presented conflicting proposals regarding the legal status of marijuana, as Parliament roots to criminalize the psychoactive drug from the cannabis plant.

It follows the reintroduction of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill by the Attorney General on May 23, seeking to criminalize the use, farming, supply, and trading of cannabis and khat, locally known as Miraa.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was first passed by Parliament in 2015. But the Constitutional Court trashed it in 2017 following a petition by the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association on grounds that the Bill was passed without a requisite quorum.

Subsequently, in June, Parliament’s Defense and Internal Affairs Committee scrutinized the Bill again and submitted a report to Parliament. However, the Speaker of Parliament Anita Among returned it citing ‘substantial alteration of the principles proposed in the Bill.

While making submissions before the Committee, the Minister of Internal Affairs Maj. Gen Otafiire Kahinda said that the Bill should legalize marijuana to enable the plant to be considered a cash crop and medicinal.

Otafiire’s proposal was backed by Kepher Kuchana Kateu, the Director of the Government Analytical Laboratory citing that though Khat is harmful when abused, the plant has numerous medicinal values, and provides raw material for textiles industries.

But Dr Juliet Nakku, the Director of Butabika National Referral Hospital who presented a paper on the subject before Parliament’s Health Committee implored Members of Parliament to disregard the economic pressures, and criminalize the production and sale of cannabis.

Dr Nakku explained to URN that the consumption of cannabis and khat problems rank second to alcohol use among patients receiving rehabilitation at Butabika Hospital. She added that it is associated with slow improvement and relapses.

Equally, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health overruled the argument by the Uganda Miraa growers who claim that the production and sale of the drugs have a significant economic impact arguing that reasons that legalizing the two drugs may earn the country undesirable consequences.

Let’s study the economies of countries where such drugs are legalized and see whether they are growing; we had better protect our people before we go into something we do not know” said Dr. Aceng.

Bukooli County Member of Parliament Adidwa Abudu wondered why the Ministry of Internal Affairs has made a U-turn to isolate khat from the list of prohibited narcotic drugs yet the same Ministry convinced Parliament to enact the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, of 2015 citing increased mental health disorders in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Henry Ddungu, the Board Chairperson of the Palliative Care Association of Uganda observed that the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended in 1972, establishes a framework of dual obligation for governments to ensure the availability of such drugs for medical purposes and prevent abuse and diversion.

According to Dr Ddungu, enforcement of heavy criminal justice response to controlled substances that prohibits and penalizes their misuse is detrimental and violates the rights of patients in need. “Freedom from pain is a Human Right”, he pointed.

Speaking to URN on separate occasions, Health Committee Chairperson Dr Charles Ayume and Wilson Kajwengye, the Defense and Internal Affairs Committee Chairperson said all the divergent stakeholders’ views will be considered and presented to Parliament for final consideration.

The Government seeks to address defects in the National Drug Policy and Authority Act, Cap206 which has been deemed very weak and does not adequately address cases of illicit drugs in the country.

if an offender is convicted of possessing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances in the new Bill, the offender could face a fine of 500 currency points, about 10 million Shillings, or incarceration of not less than two years but not exceeding 10 years.

Equally, smoking, inhaling, sniffing, chewing, or any form of use of a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance attracts a penalty of not less than 480,000 Shillings and not exceeding 2.4 million or a custodial sentence of not less than 12 months but not exceeding five years.

If found guilty of trafficking narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, an offender upon conviction faces a fine of 10 million Shillings or life imprisonment. The Government has emphasized the need to de-register from professional bodies any medical practitioner convicted of improper prescription of these drugs to avoid abuse on medical grounds.

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URN

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