The Minister of Internal Affairs, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Kahinda Otafiire, has asked Parliament to decriminalise cannabis for medical use.
He said the old position of the law should yield to new scientific findings that endorse the herb as medicine.
Otafiire, who led a team of top officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to submit on the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Bill, revealed that there was no point in the continued criminalisation of cannabis given its growing importance in medicine.
He also defended the use of khat (mairungi).
“I want to remove khat and part of cannabis from prohibited substances. When you consider khat and alcohol, khat is kindergarten pleasure; you cannot sell alcohol and prohibit khat,” he said during their interaction with the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs on Thursday, 06 July 2023 at Parliament.
He added: “Cannabis has now become something we get for medicinal substance. The medicinal plant is a multi-billion-dollar business. It is grown widely in Canada, the United States and other countries.”
The committee chairperson, also Nyabushozi County MP, Wilson Kajwengye, implored that the ministry explicitly defines the kind of cannabis they seek to promote.
“Are we able to tell which cannabis is medical, and which one is used for medicinal purposes?” he asked.
Kepher Kuchana, the Director of the Government Analytical Laboratory, said there is new research that should persuade Parliament into allowing medicinal use of cannabis.
“Our agency did 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 found that it indeed has some constituent elements which enhances a sports person,” he said, drawing instant objection from Kajwengye, who said its use by athletes is effectively doping, which will damage the industry and kill talents.
The committee then asked Kuchana to present comprehensive scientific findings that support the theory of medical cannabis to guide the committee’s decision-making.
Representatives of Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited also appeared to defend khat, saying it should not be classified as a prohibited substance.
They successfully petitioned the Constitutional Court, which annulled the previously enacted Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act, for being passed without quorum.
Isabella Nakiyonga, the association’s lawyer, urged the committee to leave khat out of the Bill.
“…we wrote and served a letter addressed to the Rt Hon. Speaker, the Hon. Minister of Internal Affairs and the Hon. Attorney General on 18 May 2023 cautioning them against the inclusion of Catha edulis (khat) in any future Bills relating to drug and substance control,” she said.
Nakiyonga protested the legality of the committee’s proceedings, saying the Attorney General has served her clients with a notice to appeal the judgment throwing out the Bill, and that entertaining the matter “offends the principles against approbation and reprobation, sub judice and non-interference with the judicial machinery.”
The Deputy Attorney General, Jackson Kafuuzi, has, however, written to the Clerk to Parliament, Adolf Mwesige Kasaija, guiding the committee to proceed with the Bill.