Proposed Law Seeks to Ban Mairungi Cultivation

3788 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
All the prohibited plants listed under the Fourth Schedule of the Bill are Cannabis (Marijuana), Catha edulius (Mairungi, Khat), Coca bush, Papaver Somniferum and Papaver Setigerum.

The cultivation of Khat popularly known as Mairungi is likely to be outlawed once parliament approves the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Bill, 2007 in its current form. The Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Bill, 2007 is aimed at complementing the National Drug Policy and Authority Act, which MPs believe is insufficient to address the current challenges of drug abuse in the country.

The bill seeks to prohibit the cultivation of certain plants such Cannabis (Marijuana), Catha edulius aka Mairungi, Coca bush, Papaver Somniferum and Papaver Setigerum. However, the proposed prohibition of Mairungi cultivation has been a source of contention since the bill was tabled before the Defense and Internal Affairs Committee for scrutiny.

Mairungi is widely cultivated in Arua, Wakiso, Butambala, Buikwe and Mpigi districts.  It is known to be a highly addictive and is categorized as a stimulant that creates feelings of euphoria.  It is a source of a livelihood for several community members in these areas because of its high demand amongst young people.

Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi, the Butambala county MP and members of the Defense and Internal Affairs Committee is one of those opposed to the proposed ban on Mairungi cultivation. In a minority report on the bill, Kivumbi argues that many people including those in his constituency are economically dependent on Mairungi cultivation. He argues that, outlawing its cultivation will leave many people without any source of income for survival.

Early this week, Benny Namugwanya, the Defence and Internal Affairs Committee chairperson defended their decision to recommend the ban on Mairungi cultivation. She says that her committee engaged the Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratory and Makerere University on the Bio-chemical composition to establish the chemical composition of Mairungi.

Namugwanya explained that, the report showed that while Mairungi has positive components, nutritional and medical values such as crude protein, vitamins A and C, Calcium, iron and potassium; it also contains dangerous ingredients such as cathinone. The report defined Cathinone as a dependence-producing constitute of the Mairungi leaves, which produces different effects amongst consumers depending on the amount consumed.
The report also noted that the effect of Mairungi on the brain and spinal cord is similar to that of amphetamines, which are stimulated through synapses. It states that fatigue is alleviated, appetite is reduced, attention span is decreased and levels of alertness, sexual libido and motor activity are increased.

The Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratory also noted that experiments had indicated that consumers of Mairungi khat had been exposed to the rapid growth of potentially harmful bacteria in their mouths and that the short-term advantages of increased energy, alertness and sexual libido hitherto enumerated is grossly eroded by the long-term addiction.
Other health complications related to long term consumption of Mairungi according to the report include hypertension, insomnia, increased risk for heart attacks, heart diseases, cancer of the mouth, and Liver damage. Namugwanya argues that basing on the findings; the committee was of a view that Government establishes a special "bail-out" package for the derivation of alternative livelihoods for the communities that prior to this legislation relied on Mairungi as a source of livelihood.

Section 49 of the National Drug Policy and Authority Act, 1993 states that no person shall cultivate any plant from which a narcotic drug can be extruded without the written consent of the Minister responsible for health in consultation with the National Drug Authority. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 to which Uganda is a signatory places restrictions on cultivation of cannabis and opium under Articles 22, 25 and 28. A state party is under an obligation to establish a government agency to control cultivation.
On Wednesday, James Baba, the Internal Affairs state minister assured parliament that government will carry out sensitization in all areas where Mairungi is grown for people to shift to other crops before the law is enforced once approved by parliament. The bill proposes a jail term of not less than two years for those found in violation of its provisions. 
It also says Medical practitioners who supply narcotics to children without reasonable ground to believe that the child is not acquiring it for abuse will earn themselves a minimum of a two-year jail term under the proposed law. A Police Officer under clause 19 of the Act who gives custody to a drug trafficker or any other person charged with an offense under the Act risks life imprisonment.



About the author

Olive Nakatudde
Olive Nakatudde is a URN journalist based in Kampala. Nakatudde has been a URN staff member since 2013.

Nakatudde started out in journalism in 2009 with Dembe FM radio in Kampala. In 2012, Nakatudde joined Voice of Africa as a political reporter. She has been a photographer since her journalism school days at Makerere University.

Nakatudde is interested in good governance and public policy, which she reports on intensively from the Uganda Parliament. She is a keen follower of cultural affairs in Buganda Kingdom and covers the kingdom's Lukiiko (parliament). Nakatudde also reports on education and health.