Govt Bodies Clash Over Marijuana Legalization Proposal

Uganda is home to 2.6 million marijuana users, and in the pecking order of the notable weed consumers, the country sits among the top 10 on the continent, a new report has revealed. PHOTO/COURTESY

Kampala, Uganda | The Black Examiner – The discourse surrounding the legal status of marijuana in Uganda has been reignited as various Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) put forth conflicting proposals. All eyes are on Parliament as it contemplates criminalizing the psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant.

This resurgence in debate follows the Attorney General’s reintroduction of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill on May 23. The bill’s aim is to categorize the use, cultivation, supply, and trading of cannabis and khat (also known as Miraa) as criminal activities.

The initial passage of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act occurred in 2015, only to be nullified by the Constitutional Court in 2017 due to procedural irregularities. The subsequent reconsideration of the bill by Parliament’s Defense and Internal Affairs Committee resulted in a report being submitted. However, the Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, deemed the report to substantially alter the bill’s foundational principles, leading to its return.

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The heart of the matter lies in the divergent viewpoints presented before the Committee. Minister of Internal Affairs Maj. Gen Otafiire Kahinda advocated for the legalization of marijuana, positioning it as a cash crop with medicinal potential. This stance was echoed by Kepher Kuchana Kateu, the Director of the Government Analytical Laboratory, who highlighted the medical and industrial value of khat.

In contrast, Dr. Juliet Nakku, the Director of Butabika National Referral Hospital, urged Parliament to prioritize health over economic considerations, urging the criminalization of cannabis production and sales. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health, shared this perspective, citing potential undesirable consequences and calling for safeguarding the population.

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In the midst of these deliberations, Bukooli County Member of Parliament Adidwa Abudu raised concerns about the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ apparent shift in stance towards khat. The ministry initially advocated for its prohibition due to mental health concerns, creating a notable contrast.

Dr. Henry Ddungu, the Board Chairperson of the Palliative Care Association of Uganda, highlighted the dual responsibility established by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. This convention emphasizes ensuring drug availability for medical purposes while preventing abuse. Dr. Ddungu stressed the potential infringement on patients’ rights if stringent criminal justice measures are enforced.

Health Committee Chairperson Dr. Charles Ayume and Defense and Internal Affairs Committee Chairperson Wilson Kajwengye emphasized that the divergent views will be synthesized for Parliament’s consideration.

The Government’s larger goal includes rectifying gaps in the National Drug Policy and Authority Act, Cap206, which currently fails to adequately address illicit drug cases.

The new Bill proposes substantial penalties for drug-related offenses. Possession could lead to fines of up to 10 million Shillings or imprisonment of up to 10 years. Usage attracts fines up to 2.4 million Shillings or imprisonment of up to five years. Trafficking could result in fines or even life imprisonment.

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