The Minister for Internal Affairs, Hon. Kahinda Otafiire, has re-echoed his stance on the legalisation of medical marijuana and khat during his appearance before the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs on Friday July 14, 2023.
Chaired by Hon. Wilson Kajwengye, the committee is scrutinising the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Bill, 2023, which in its current form lists khat and marijuana, among others, in the schedule of prohibited substances.
The minister was, however, quick to elaborate that he does not support recreational marijuana use.
“I am advocating for the legalisation of cannabis for medical use; the other cannabis of my friends, the rastas, I also do not support,” he said.
On khat, commonly known as miraa, Otafiire said Uganda could be losing a lot of money on the international market for prohibiting the sale of the crop, compared to Kenya, which he said, is minting millions of dollars exporting the chewy leaves.
“My colleagues in Kenya tell me they get US$120 million from exporting miraa to Somalia; US$120 million is a quarter of what we get from coffee exports,” he said.
Uganda, he added, is in near isolation on the ban of miraa, against international practice. “Miraa is not a banned substance by the international community; it is a tradeable substance,” he said.
Hon. Kajwengye queried the criteria government will use to separate the legal marijuana from the illegal one, saying this could create confusion and complicate the work of law enforcement agencies.
“Ugandans will not tell the one that is dangerous from the one that isn’t; how do you tell people out there that this is good, this is bad?; it is all cannabis, it impairs the mind…” he said.
Officials from Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital, led by the Executive Director, Dr Juliet Nakku, while appearing before the committee on Thursday, 13 July 2023 rejected the proposal of legalisation both marijuana and khat, explaining that it can cause mental illness among those who consume it.
Mr Kepher Kuchana, the Director Government Analytical Laboratories, listed the pros and cons of marijuana, concluding that on the balance of probabilities, it is better to legalise it for purely medicinal purposes by licensed and strictly supervised farmers.
“Cannabis is good for relaxation and stress relief, insecticidal and pesticidal activity due to cannabinoids and cannabioxepane; it is good as anti-malarial, andti-inflammatory, ancti-cancer, anti-epileptic and dermocosmetic activities,” he said.
However, he also discredited the plant.
“[It] temporarily impairs short-term memory, attention and cognitive function, particularly when consumed in higher doses; it affects coordination, balance, and reaction time, which may impair driving or operating machinery,” he said.
He added: “It also has potential mental health risks such as anxiety disorders and psychosis, particularly in individuals predisposed to these conditions,” he said.
The committee is handling the Bill following the annulment of a similar Act by the Constitutional Court, which admonished Parliament for passing the then Bill without the requisite quorum.
The committee retreats to write its report and present its finding to Parliament tentatively next week.