Law enforcers cannot be trusted to allow cultivation, transportation and use of cannabis sativa commonly referred to as bhang for medicinal and industrial use, Senators have said.
The lawmakers while reacting to a petition that seeks to decriminalize and legalise the drug expressed fears that the police and other bodies that would be mandated to regulate the plant can be compromised.
“Our system has proved that we can’t trust the system to regulate bhang,” Nyandarua Senator Muriuki Karue said when the petition was formally introduced in the House on Wednesday.
In the petition, Mr Gwada Ogot, a researcher, writer and political analyst, is advocating for establishment of a Cannabis regulatory body-Cannabis Sativa Board of Kenya to oversee planting, trade and consumption of the drug.
“Research has indicated that bhang can be used for medicinal purposes to cure diseases. It is disease resistant and can be replanted several times a year without use of pesticides,” Mr Ogot argued in the petition.
Crimes and controversies over the plant, he said, are due to its prohibition and said if legalised, it can be one of the cash crops and contribute in improving people’s living standards besides, boosting the country’s revenue.
“I pray the House recommends amnesty for all people jailed for possession, usage, sale, cultivation and transportation of cannabis Sativa. Criminalising Cannabis creates criminals where none existed,” Mr Ogot said.
But Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) said any attempt to legalise growth, trade and consumption of bhang would take the country the “wrong way.”
He appealed to the committee of Health, that has 60 days to look into the matter, to consider re-emphasizing the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1994 that criminalises and outlaws bhang.
Prof John Lonyangapuo (West Pokot), Billow Kerrow (Mandera) and Martha Wangari (Nominated) said the petition was misplaced and risks eroding the efforts being made to fight drug abuse in the country.
“How can a Kenyan think of legalizing bhang? Think of the damage it has caused. Though it may generate money but it leads to damage in homes and a lot of social disorder. In fact, the committee should propose more penalties,” Prof Lonyangapuo said.
But Senators Kennedy Monga’re (Nyamira), Moses Kajwang’ (Homabay) and Prof Wilfred Lesan (Bomet) and Dr Wilfred Machage (Migori) said there is need to consider the petition given that the current laws have not helped fight the vice.
“Strict regulations don’t help. It is abused because of laws criminalising it. The problem with Kenyans is living in denial,” Mr Mong’are who confessed to have used the drug during his childhood days said.
Mr Mong’are, who has declared interest to run for the presidency suddenly became a target and his fellow lawmakers demanded that he reveals more about his experience with drugs.
“Tell us how it reacts when you take it so that we contribute from an informed point of view,” Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe said.
Mr Kajwang’ said demonizing bhang, which grows naturally in some parts of the country, was not the best way to address cases of drug abuse.
“Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Marijuana exploited can be exploited beyond smoking and intoxication, for industrial use. If our soils can support it why don’t we find a way of tapping it into medicinal or industrial use,” Mr Kajwang’ said.
Prof Lesan said the committee should investigate how the by-products from the plant can be harnessed for productive use.
“Whether we decriminalize it or not, we are more concerned with products from the plant once processed,” Prof Lesan said.
In countries like Spain, Netherlands, Uruguay, Switzerland, Portugal and the State of Colorado in the USA, people freely smoke the drug but under certain regulations, and Kenya would join them if legislators agree to review the existing laws.