Wakiso khat growers and traders threaten to demonstrate over Narcotics Bill

WAKISO, September 14, 2023 – Khat growers and traders in Wakiso district have threatened to demonstrate should President Yoweri Museveni assent to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill, 2023 reintroduced by the government.

The Bill comprehensively bans the cultivation and trading of khat and other selected plants in the country, with government arguing that the prohibited plants in the Bill affect the health of citizens, but also contribute to crime.

On April 9, 2015, Museveni assented to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act Bill 2016, however, it was annulled in May 2023 on grounds that it was passed without the required quorum in Parliament.

This is after khat farmers and traders in 2017 through their lawyers led by Isaac Ssemakadde challenged the Act for classifying Miraa or Mairungi as a prohibited plant.

Parliament established the law to ban several drugs including Cannabis, Bush Cocoa, and specifically Mairungi on grounds that it is a psychoactive drug which contains cathinone and cathine, a substance known for several side effects such as increased blood pressure, a state of euphoria and elation with feelings of increased alertness and arousal.

However, the petitioners told court that the law was not backed up by any scientific evidence yet it had a disruptive effect on the livelihood, property, cultural and social economic rights of the petitioners who are Mairungi farmers, sellers and consumers.

Following the annulment of the Act by the Constitutional Court, parliament went back to the drawing board as government reintroduced the Bill which awaits now Museveni’s signature to make law.

However, khat growers and traders on the other hand who are the main stakeholders are skeptical about their future should the bill become law.

Mira has supported most of us, it has no health problems. No Somali has ever run mad because of Miraa. President Museveni should withdraw it,” says Geoffery Ssempijja.

According to Vincent Kizito, chairperson of Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited, they presented a petition to President Museveni praying that khat be removed from the list of prohibited plants in the Act, compensation of affected communities be looked into, age restriction for khat consumption be 18 years and above, and streamlining of the regulatory framework of the business be done.

Medford Lubega Sseggona, the Busiro East Member of Parliament advised all stakeholders in khat business to continue petitioning Museveni such that he doesn’t sign the bill into law, arguing that the law should only regulate khat consumption, cultivation, and value addition.

Ssegona adds that should the President assent to the bill, it might cause insecurity in the country as those who have been benefiting from khat growing and trading could resort to crime to earn a living.

According to the Bill awaiting President Museveni’s approval again, any person or owner of land who has reason to believe that his or her land will be used for the cultivation of the prohibited plant will have to pay Shs 1 billion or an amount equivalent to fee that is three times the market value of the said drug at the time of apprehension or face jail for five years or both.

Parliament punished for simple error

In their May 2023 judgement ,the justices of the Constitutional Court agreed with Mairungi farmers in that the process of passing the Narcotics Bill was flawed as the required number of MPs was not attained on the November 19th, 2015 when the said Bill was passed. They justices said the deputy speaker then did not take it upon himself to ascertain the existence of required quorum.

Justices ruled that the Parliament breached its own rules of procedure as the existence of quorum at the voting stage means the bill receives the majority or sufficient number of votes in order for it to be lawfully passed.

“From the review of the Hansards of 18th, 19th and 20th, 2014, it is my finding that the Petitioner has a valid complaint. Before a vote could be lawfully be taken by parliament, Rule 23 [3] of 2012 Rules of Procedure of Parliament required the Speaker to ascertain whether the Members present in the House form a quorum for the vote to be taken,” said Justice Mutangula Kibeedi on behalf of other justices.

Consequently, the Justices ordered the government to pay the farmers costs they had spent on this petition, even though the police say khat consumption is prohibited under another law.

NDA Act still enforceable

According to the police, they will continue to apprehend those who deal in khat illegally as the Constitutional Court ruling on Narcotics law does not affect the National Drug Authority Act.

“The police, DPP and Judiciary, will continue to afford their old powers, to tackle narcotics related offences in the Act. The drugs under the NDA are illegal, because they are harmful and affects both physical and mental health, relationships, career prospects, crime and the wider society, says Enanga Fred, Police Spokesperson

Last year, Enanga says, 2022, a total of 2,797 cases of Narcotics/Drugs were reported to the police country wide, compared to 1,668 cases reported in 2021, thus giving a 67.7 percent increase in the crime category. A total of 4,818 suspects were arrested and charged to court, including 137 juveniles. Cannabis has consistently been the most used drug, followed by cocaine.

Part IV of the Act provides for the restrictions of Narcotics, Section 47, prohibits the possession of narcotics, without lawful excuse; Section 48, prohibits the smoking of opium or Indian hemp, use of premises by persons smoking opium or Indian hemp… and Section 49 prohibits without consent of the Minister, cultivation of plants yielding narcotics.

“As the UPF, we still maintain a zero-tolerance approach to the consumption of substances prohibited under the NDA. All our territorial commanders have been instructed to maintain or step-up enforcement action against offenders and enhance deterrence efforts to help stop narcotic drugs consumption in the country and crimes driven by it. Our neighbourhoods don’t deserve to be victim to drug dealers,” says Enanga in a statement.

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