Wakiso Miraa growers and dealers have submitted a formal petition to the Speaker of Parliament, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and the Attorney General, seeking a platform to engage in meaningful consultation following the recent nullification of the 2016 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act.
On May 5th, 2023, a panel of Constitutional Court Justices, led by Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, unanimously allowed a petition filed by the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited against the Attorney General.
The petitioners, represented by a legal team including Isaac Ssemakadde, challenged the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act, which classified Catha edulis (khat), commonly known as Miraa or Mairungi in Uganda, as a prohibited plant.
They argued that the prohibition lacked scientific evidence and had adverse effects on their livelihoods, property, and socio-economic rights as Miraa farmers, sellers, and consumers. The court nullified the law based solely on the absence of quorum, without addressing the other grounds presented in the petition.
However, the petitioners wish to clarify that some government circles and media reports have inaccurately portrayed their primary concern as the absence of a quorum, suggesting that reintroducing a similar bill with a proper quorum would suffice as a solution.
They emphasize that their main contention lies in the lack of sufficient consultation prior to the proposal to ban khat being tabled and approved by the 9th Parliament. The petitioners assert that khat plays a significant role in the livelihoods of over eight million Ugandans in khat-growing districts and that 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 World Health Organisation and the scientific community in Uganda, United Kingdom, Netherlands, etc. 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”, reads their petition.
The petitioners also clarify 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 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.
The petitioners call upon the Speaker of Parliament, the Attorney General, and the Minister of Internal Affairs to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Khat community to address the raised concerns and ensure their voices are heard. They propose a careful consideration of existing laws while studying the concerns of the khat community and other stakeholders, emphasizing the removal of any references to khat in proposed bills to ensure compliance with constitutional principles.
Recently, the Speaker of Parliament provided a timeline for the Attorney General to reintroduce the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill. However, the Attorney General requested additional time, which was denied by the Speaker.
If the government fails to act promptly, the Bugiri Municipality MP, Asuman Basalirwa, may table the bill as a Private Members Bill.
The proposed bill aims to regulate the possession, trafficking, and cultivation of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, while also addressing the forfeiture of property derived from illicit drug activities.