Will Uganda legalise growth of marijuana?

By Vision Reporter

Sources revealed that a number of high-profile meetings have been going on recently, involving multiple government agencies led by the health ministry, to discuss the licences.

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About 90 companies, including foreign ones, have applied to the Government for licences to allow them to grow marijuana on a commercial scale, New Vision has learnt.

Sources revealed that a number of high-profile meetings have been going on recently, involving multiple government agencies led by the health ministry, to discuss the licences.

However, the source said many of the meetings would end in a stalemate, as some participants supported the move, while others opposed it.

According to the health minister, Jane Ruth Aceng, the Government is yet to progress to the stage of granting operational permits for entities to grow and process marijuana for medical export.

“The Government, through the health ministry, is still in the early stages of carrying out consultations on this nascent area to understand the economic benefits of cannabis, its medical value based on scientifically proven evidence, including the challenges of regulation so that we can formulate a way forward,” Aceng wrote in a letter to some of the companies that had applied last month.

Recently, the state minister for health, Sarah Opendi, said: “I cannot tell exactly how many companies have applied. Three months ago, when we took a paper on marijuana growing to the Cabinet, 14 companies had applied. People apply almost every day.”

She assured the public and applicants that Cabinet would discuss the issue and come up with a policy. “We know that marijuana is medicinal, but it can be abused. As the health ministry, we are still stuck because of the challenges in the existing law,” Opendi said. Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is a psychoactive drug used for medical or recreational purposes.

It can be used by smoking, vapourising or in food as an extract. For medical uses, it helps manage pain. It is, however, the most commonly abused illegal substance in the world and has long-term effects on the brain and body, if not used sparingly.

In recent years, over 39 countries, including multiple states in the US, have introduced legislation authorising its sale not only for medical but also recreational uses.

In Kenya, some legislators last month launched a campaign to legalise the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

In Uganda, marijuana is still classified as a banned substance. The Police has in the past slashed several plantations of marijuana in various parts of the country and persons found with the weed have been charged in courts of law.

Last year, New Vision exclusively reported that an Israel firm, Together Pharma Limited, had secured land in Uganda to grow the crop. The company said it had closed a deal to supply cannabis oil to a Canadian firm and that the contract could potentially give Uganda hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Narcotics law
Besides malaria treatment, global medical reviews have indicated that using marijuana medically may help to treat epilepsy, chronic pain and cancer symptoms, help people who are addicted to alcohol, as well as treat symptoms of mental illness, like relieving depression and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, among others.

However, the World Health Organisation warns against non-medical marijuana use, linking it to the high rate of mental disorders, cancer and respiratory diseases, among others.

According to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act 2015, anyone involved in the manufacture, production, sale or distribution of a narcotic drug substance commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding sh2.4m or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both.

The law prohibits the cultivation of any plant from which narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances may be extracted without permission from the health minister.

The prohibited plants, according to the law, include cannabis, opium poppy, coca bush, papaver sominferum, papaver setigerum and catha edulis.