Tough penalties for drug dealers, abuses as small-scale farmers of Khat lose battle in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill is passed.

Any Ugandans planning to venture into the commercial production of Khat locally known as Miraa will have to be licensed upon meeting requirements that will be put in place by the government if the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill, 2023 becomes law.

When Parliament passed the Bill last Tuesday, about 7.9m Ugandans who cultivate Miraa a plant that is used to produce drugs that have been abused to some extent, were all eyes on the House to save their source of livelihood. However, Parliament passed to include Miraa among the prohibited plants.

The legislation was reintroduced by government after the Constitutional Court’s decision in May this year to nullify the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act, 2016.

The 2016 law was nullified after it was successfully challenged by Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association with Court zeroing on the issue of lack of quorum at the time the 9th Parliament passed it.

Before the Bill was passed with a quorum of 202 legislators, debate ensued on whether to remove Miraa from the list of prohibited plants under the 4th Schedule of the Bill. Other listed prohibited plants include; Cannabis locally known as Marijuana; Coca Bush; Papaver Somniferum also known as opium poppy; and, Papaver setigerum.

Clause 11 of the Bill only makes it allowable for these prohibited plants to be cultivated in Uganda without a written consent of the Minister responsible for health. Therefore, if the Bill is signed into law, anyone convicted for illegally growing Marijuana, Miraa and other prohibited plants would be fined UGX 2.4m or three times the value of the prohibited plant or 5 years jail sentence for first offender while it is life imprisonment for repeat offenders.

Jinja West Division Legislator Dr Timothy Batuwa put up a spirited fight to have Miraa removed from 4th Schedule of the Bill as one of the prohibited plants arguing that it is not dangerous to human life like alcohol.

Dr Batuwa also stated that legalization of Miraa growing would be in conformity with what happens in other East African countries where the plant is cultivated freely and used controllably by sections of the public.

“I rise to convince this House that we amend the 4th schedule which has a list of prohibited plants. I was in this House when we considered the Schedule and so I come to you now with more information. Early this year when we were legislating on Local Content Bill which was returned with advice that we consider East Africa. The product we call Khat is a product that is recreational in nature and its used in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya” he said

Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa was quick to guide Dr Batuwa saying that it is not good to use the war-torn Somalia as an example while talking about the need to legalise the cultivation and controlled use of Miraa.

After debate of more than 30 minutes in which there were suggestions that the long title of the Bill be amended to accommodate both prohibition and control of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, the House voted to maintain Miraa as a prohibited plant.

Unlike the last week’s sittings in which the Committee of the whole House was passing different clauses of the Bill, members of the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association were not in the in the gallery on Tuesday. They had on Monday held a consultative meeting where their leaders condemned the tough penalties already provided for hence threatening to go back to Court if Khat or Miraa is not legalized.

The tough penalties

Uganda is a party to international conventions that are meant to fight the transportation of drugs one of them being the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

If signed into law, it will be a crime under this legislation for being found in possession of a prohibited drug or substance an offense punishable by a fine of UGX 1b or three times the value of the drug or 20 years imprisonment for the case of narcotic drugs, and a fine of UGX 500m or three times the market value or 15 years prison sentence for the case of Psychotropic substance.

Clause 5 of the Bill deals with convicted traffickers who could face a penalty of a fine of UGX 1b or three times the market value of a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance whichever is greater or life imprisonment. Convicted traffickers for other substances other than narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances, on conviction could be fined UGX 500m or a jail sentence of 20 years or both.

Clause 6 of the Bill has gone for the people found guilty of; smoking, inhaling, sniffing and chewing any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance; being found in any house, room or place where such acts are done; owns or occupies or manages such a premise where use or manufacture of the prohibited drugs.

The proposed penalty of a fine of UGX 1b or imprisonment for 10 years has been legislated for medical practitioners and dentists found guilty of prescribing for, administer, sell or supply to any person a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance except where it is required for medical purposes. The same penalty has been proposed for a veterinary surgeon who supplies or administer the prohibited drugs to animals except for treatment.

In this piece of legislation, Parliament has also gone for the punishment of owners of properties including land and buildings where prohibited plants are cultivated or drugs are abused respectively. Clause 23 of the Bill provides for the Attorney General to apply for a restraint order for anyone to use the property until the criminal case is exposed of by Court.

If this law comes into force, police officers at the rank of Inspector will be empowered to enter upon and inspect any land where he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect that; a prohibited plant was or is cultivated on any government land that is held under lease or license or illegally entered. Under the same clause 11 a police officer will be free to enter private land where he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect that a prohibited plant has been cultivated without a written consent of the Minister of Health.

Some of the other penalties include; UGX 500m or 10 years jail term for a person who fails to furnish authorities with information about manufacturing or dealing in prohibited drugs; deregistering medical practitioners, dentists or veterinary surgeons convicted for an offense under this law; a fine of UGX480000 or jail term of one year for a police officer who wrongfully enters or searchers any building or unnecessarily detains or arrest any person; and, a jail sentence of 10 years for a person convicted for conspiring, inciting, aiding or abetting commission of an offense.

Rehabilitation

With statistics from the Butabika National Referral Hospital indicating that there are Ugandans under treatment for mental disorder as a result of the use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in the country, the new legislation has provided for the establishment of rehabilitation centres.

Legislators appreciated that the country has only one rehabilitation centre which is Butabika which can only accommodate 60 patients at a time. In Clause 57 of the Bill, Parliament wants the Ministry of Health to establish an advisory committee for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

What they said

Deputy Speaker, Tayebwa argued for the legislators to lead in the sensitization of their constituents on the need to fight drug abuse saying it is costly to treat or rehabilitate an addict than preventing the vice from surging all over the country.

“The problem of substance abuse is big. It starts small and keeps upgrading. We need to talk to our children about it. Personally, I have one in our family. We have gone through a lot. It starts in a simple way but we have many people who are dying slowly” said Tayebwa.

Defense and Internal Affairs Committee Chairperson, Wilson Kajwengye commended the House for the passing of the Bill saying; “we have delivered a piece of legislation that has a direct bearing on our people”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *