By Omari Bradley
Recent debate arising from a petition by Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth to legalise marijuana, demonstrate that the subject matter and aftermath of the petition has not inspired criticism in its broader essence. Often, the debates have focused on the same archaic misconceptions and misguided bedevilling of marijuana that were used in the first anti-marijuana campaign of 1930.
Okoth’s petition is not particularly new to the Parliament. The first one was presented in 2017 by analyst and writer Gwada Ogot, followed by a further petition by researcher Prof Simon Mwaura.
There is vehement opposition to such legislation out of the fear of corrupting society from its abuse, which has pushed the debate to focus on only one use of marijuana – that of it as a recreational drug. This claim by those opposed to its use, as I shall demonstrate shortly, is biased and based on generational transference of misconceptions spread to support marijuana prohibition in 1930.
The pro-marijuana petitions are primarily similar in their provisions. For example, they proposed the decriminalisation of marijuana – in effect warranting the release of petty offenders incarcerated on marijuana related charges, listing of the plant as a cash crop, allowing its use for medical uses, legalisation for industrial purposes and allowing it as a recreational drug.
The latter is the distinction between the first two petitions (the former did not state recreational use and the latter advocates for recreational use). This has also become the centre of the debate, with fears of abuse and exposure of children.
What does pro-marijuana legislation really offer the state?
The successful demonization of marijuana in the 1930’s anti-marijuana campaign – one arguably borne of racism, bias, corruption and greed for administrative power – trickled down from generation to generation, and remains the biggest hurdle to realising the true benefits of pro-marijuana legislation.
The true gift of pro marijuana legislation is that it comes as three new statutes or statute amendments that aim to benefit Kenya in the ways stated previously – for income generation, providing medical relief and the release of petty offenders.
What does pro-marijuana legislation really offer the state?
The three statutes in focus are the Revised Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances act (NDPSA No. 4 of 1994), The Marijuana Control Act (currently the Marijuana Control Bill) and revision of the Crop Act for amendment.
The NDPSA Act is due for some change, not only to accommodate marijuana legislation via repealing the sections that govern it, but also by including new legal measure for curbing opioid use, contraband drugs and accommodating control of newly emerging drug threats that were not covered during its drafting. As currently structured, it no longer completely serves absolute universal justice to the citizens of the State.
The Marijuana Control Bill 2018, which is in Parliament currently, would cover for the legislation that decriminalises the plant. It would also have provisions that touch on licensing, control and monitoring of the sector, standardisation, advertising, research, taxation and much more. This legislation would also be put in place to actualise the provisions of Article 43(1) (a) of the COK 2010 – which provides for Constitutional health rights – and would thus be in place for the medical and scientific use of marijuana in Kenya.
Revising the Crop Act No. 16 of 2013 would legalise marijuana as a protected cash crop, and provide guidelines on growth and establishment of a governing body for the collection, research, development and marketing of harvests from licensed large scale growers much like Kenya Seeds does for maize, wheat, sunflowers and over 60 other seed variety yields.
From the above analyses, we can already account for development of Kenyan jurisprudence, upholding Constitution via providing the highest standard of health to citizen patients of various ailments per Article 43 (1) (a), as well as fulfilling sustainable development [Article 10 (2) (d)) and Environmental conservation (Article 69(1) (b)] provisions, creating employment in a number of sectors and institutions, relieving the courts of unnecessary cases, as well as decongesting prisons. And this is just the beginning.
The benefits of marijuana are more abundant than the perceived fabricated fears could ever be. These include a chance to resurrect a textile industry that has been threatened by second hand clothing, and the paper industry, following the legal ban on plastic bags and other paper bags in 2017. This would be achieved by introducing new raw material that would preserve our trees; with strains of marijuana and industrial hemp doing well in Kenya (some are even indigenous), it would work well in most areas without the climatic limitations on growth of other plants like sisal and cotton. Industrial hemp can be used in the production of fibreboard which is lighter and stronger, and can also be used as alternative fuel which would help the transition from charcoal prohibition by offering alternatives to its dependents.
Hemp seeds contain a protein that is nutritious and more economical to produce than soybean protein. Hemp seeds are not intoxicating, as they do not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. This protein can be used to produce most products made from soybean: tofu, veggie burgers, butter, cheese, salad oils, ice cream, milk, etc. It can be ground into a nutritious flour that can be used to produce baked goods such as pasta, cookies, and breads. Seed oil formed from hemp can be used in production of non-toxic diesel fuel, paint, varnish, detergent, ink and lubricating oil.
Legalisation would serve as a source of Government revenue via reasonable taxation on an industry that has exponential growth potential, with examples of the legal marijuana market in the US, for example, generating an estimated $6.7 million (Sh670 million); in the US, it was the fastest growing industry in the 29 states that had legalised medicinal marijuana by 2017 . (
– This article is a summary of research done by the Author. Some views have been documented in his legal dissertation “4.20: Why Kenya Should Legalize Marijuana”, 2017.