-Minister Otafire’s Plea For Decriminalisation, Re-evaluation In Drug Legislation
By Insight Post Uganda
For centuries, cannabis (marijuana) locally known as ‘Njaga’, has been a taboo subject in Uganda, synonymous with criminality and illicit activities. The mere association with this controversial plant could lead to severe legal repercussions.
However, winds of change are sweeping across the nation as the new Narcotic Bill finds its way to the debating table of the Ugandan Parliament.
Remarkably, cannabis and another substance called khat have emerged as unexpected contenders, seeking to prove their worth and challenge the long-standing criminalisation.
Spearheading this transformative movement is the Minister of Internal Affairs, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Kahinda Otafiire, passionately advocates for the decriminalization of cannabis for medical purposes, citing the endorsement of the herb as medicine by groundbreaking scientific discoveries.
Accompanied by a delegation of esteemed officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Otafiire presented their case before the Parliament, shedding light on the contentious Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Bill.
During this crucial engagement with the Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs on Thursday, 06 July 2023, at Parliament, Hon. Otafiire emphasised the urgent need to reassess Uganda’s stance on the controversial duo, cannabis and Khat.
The minister further highlighted the inaptness of maintaining the plant’s criminal status in the face of its burgeoning importance in the field of medicine.
With unwavering conviction, the Minister appealed to his fellow lawmakers, imploring them to embrace the shifting paradigms brought forth by new scientific insights and reevaluate the archaic laws that have plagued the nation for decades.
In his ardent advocacy for a progressive approach to drug legislation, Otafiire also addressed the issue of khat, a stimulant substance commonly consumed in several regions of East Africa.
He proposed the removal of khat and a portion of cannabis from the list of prohibited substances, drawing a parallel with alcohol. According to his argument, khat, when compared to alcohol, pales in comparison and should not face the same prohibition.
In his bold declaration, he highlighted the inconsistency of allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol while stigmatizing khat, asserting that the latter is a relatively benign pleasure.
By championing the cause of both cannabis and khat, Otafiire seeks to initiate a comprehensive reform that reflects the evolving global understanding of these substances.
He further stated, “Cannabis has now transformed into a valuable medicinal substance, fueling a multi-billion-dollar industry. Its cultivation is widespread in countries like Canada, the United States, and several other nations.”
Hon. Wilson Kajwengye, the committee chairperson and Nyabushozi County MP, urged the ministry to provide a clear definition of the specific type of cannabis they intend to promote.
“Can we differentiate between cannabis used for medical purposes and other forms of cannabis?” he questioned.
Kepher Kuchana, the Director of the Government Analytical Laboratory, highlighted the existence of new research that should sway Parliament towards allowing the medicinal use of cannabis.
“Our agency conducted research on cannabis, using a sample obtained from Arua and the entire West Nile region, known as azaghi. It is currently being used by the youth, and we discovered that it contains certain constituents that enhance the performance of athletes,” he stated, eliciting an immediate objection from Hon. Kajwengye.
The MP argued that athletes using cannabis for performance enhancement would amount to doping, potentially harming the industry and stifling talent.
In response, the committee requested Kuchana to present comprehensive scientific findings that support the concept of medical cannabis, which would guide their decision-making process.
Representatives from the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited also appeared before the committee to advocate for khat, asserting that it should not be classified as a prohibited substance.
They successfully petitioned the Constitutional Court, resulting in the annulment of the previously enacted Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act due to a lack of quorum during its passage.
Isabella Nakiyonga, the association’s lawyer, urged the committee to exclude khat from the current Bill, citing a letter they had previously sent to the Speaker, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and the Attorney General on May 18, 2023, cautioning against including Catha edulis (khat) in any future drug and substance control legislation.
Nakiyonga raised concerns about the legality of the committee’s proceedings, stating that the Attorney General had notified her clients of their intention to appeal the judgment that dismissed the Bill.
She argued that considering the matter at hand would go against principles such as sub judice, non-interference with the judicial process, and consistency.
However, the Deputy Attorney General, Hon. Jackson Kafuuzi, has written to the Clerk to Parliament, Adolf Mwesige Kasaija providing guidance for the committee to continue its work on the Bill.