In an appearance before the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, the Minister for Internal Affairs, Kahinda Otafiire, reaffirmed his support for the legalization of medical marijuana and khat (miraa) on Friday.
Under the chairmanship of Hon. Wilson Kajwengye, the committee is currently examining the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Bill, 2023, which presently includes miraa and marijuana, among other substances, in the list of prohibited drugs.
However, Minister Otafiire was quick to clarify that he does not endorse the recreational use of marijuana. He stated, “I am advocating for the legalization of cannabis for medical use; the other cannabis used by my friends, the Rastas, I also do not support.”
Regarding miraa, Otafiire expressed concerns that Uganda is missing out on significant international market revenue by prohibiting the sale of this crop, unlike Kenya, which reportedly earns millions of dollars through the export of these chewy leaves. He mentioned, “My colleagues in Kenya tell me they earn US$120 million from exporting miraa to Somalia; this amount constitutes a quarter of what we earn from coffee exports.”
Moreover, the minister pointed out that Uganda’s ban on miraa goes against international practices, stating, “Miraa is not a banned substance according to the international community; it is a tradable substance.”
During the committee session, Kajwengye raised concerns about differentiating between legal and illegal marijuana, fearing that this could create confusion and complicate the work of law enforcement agencies.
He stated, “Ugandans will not be able to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless; how can we tell people out there that this is good and this is bad? It’s all cannabis, and it impairs the mind.”
On Thursday, officials from Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital, led by Executive Director Dr. Juliet Nakku, appeared before the committee and opposed the proposal to legalize both marijuana and miraa, explaining that these substances can contribute to mental illnesses among consumers.
Kepher Kuchana, the Director of Government Analytical Laboratories, presented the pros and cons of marijuana, concluding that it would be better to legalize it strictly for medicinal purposes under the supervision of licensed farmers.
He cited various benefits of cannabis, including relaxation, stress relief, insecticidal properties, and its potential as an anti-malarial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-epileptic, and dermocosmetic agent.
However, he also acknowledged its temporary impairments on memory, attention, cognitive function, coordination, balance, and reaction time, particularly in higher doses. Additionally, he highlighted potential mental health risks such as anxiety disorders and psychosis, particularly for individuals predisposed to these conditions.
The committee’s handling of the Bill follows the annulment of a similar Act by the Constitutional Court. The court had criticized Parliament for passing the previous Bill without the required quorum.
The committee will now draft its report and is expected to present its findings to Parliament next week.