Mairungi Farmers Demand Parliament Records on New Narcotics Drugs Bill

Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association has petitioned the Clerk to Parliament demanding documents to help them file a constitutional petition challenging the passing of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill of 2023.

On August 22nd, Parliament presided by Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa passed the Bill.

The new narcotics bill seeks to allow the cultivation of marijuana and khat strictly for medical and other authorized use, with extreme penalties including forfeiture of properties lengthy jail terms, and hefty fines for violators.

A medical practitioner, pharmacist, dentist, or any other person who supplies or administers a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance to a child where the narcotic drug or psychotropic substance is not required in the treatment of a child, commits an offense and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand currency points or to imprisonment for life or both,” reads Clause 10.

The farmers involved in the cultivation of the prohibited substances will now have to obtain licenses from the health ministry, and those who fail to do so will suffer jail.

A pharmacist who prescribes any of the prohibited drugs and substances under the Act will be fined one billion shillings, 10 years in jail, or both.

The Attorney General reintroduced the Bill on 23 May 2023, two weeks after the Constitutional Court nullified the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act, 2016 on grounds that Parliament lacked the required quorum at the time of its passing.

The nullification followed a successful petition by the Wakiso Miraa Farmers through their lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde.

In their petition on Tuesday to the Clerk to Parliament Adolf Mwesige, the farmers noted that they are aggrieved with the passing of the law.

“We represent the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association whose stakeholders are as you know, aggrieved by the passing of the above-captioned bill. We are instructed to request the following records in aid of our client’s preparation of a constitutional petition”, reads the letter by the lawyers of the Centre for Legal Aid.

According to the petition, the Miraa Farmers are seeking a Hansard report of the third reading of the bill on August 22nd, 2023 on the first reading on May 23, 2023, and the second reading on August 15, 16, and 17 2023.

They are also seeking the report of the Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs as regards its scrutiny of the Bill and the proceedings of the same committee, all reports, memoranda, or guidance submitted to the Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs,  the  Report of the Committee on health and it’s proceedings and any other relevant documents.

They are also requesting the documents of the withdrawal of appeal filed in the Supreme Court of Uganda by the Attorney General with respect to the petition that was filed in 2017 by the farmers which they won in May 2023.

According to the farmers, khat plays a significant role in the livelihoods of over eight million Ugandans in khat-growing districts, and renowned international scientific bodies, including the World Health Organization, do not consider khat to be an illicit substance.

The Khat farmers and dealers presented evidence that WHO and the scientific community in Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands do not consider Khat to be an illicit substance and believe it to be a less potent or addictive stimulant than tobacco, alcohol, aviation fuel, cocaine, amphetamine, and other commonly used drugs.

The farmers also clarified that their evidence showed that although the shrub contains both cathinone and cathine, which in isolation are restricted substances under international law, it is unfeasible to grow or deal in Khat for the purpose of extracting cathinone and cathine.

“Producing these designer drugs synthetically through a laboratory is a much cheaper and more efficient option. The Government did not contest this evidence accordingly, the farmers argued, that the Government relied on “sheer prejudice”, “myths and taboos” and “junk science to include Khat under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 2016”, reads the petition submitted to the Speaker of Parliament a few months ago.

According to Ssemakadde, the law was passed out of ignorance and he is hopeful that it will again be nullified by the court.

“The passing of this latest version of the narcotics bill was, once again, a shocking display of ignorance and prejudice from our lawmakers. The records we are seeking will demonstrate to the court that the 11th Parliament comprised an unruly batch of lawmakers, whose actions defied both logic and high constitutional principles. It’s only a matter of time before the resultant act is also nullified,” said Ssemakadde.

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