Nyamira Senator Kennedy Mong'are during a press conference at his office in Nairobi, on January 08, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGONyamira Senator Kennedy Mong'are during a press conference at his office in Nairobi, on January 08, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO
By DENNIS ODUNGA, @dennis_odunga [email protected]

Nyamira Senator and Presidential aspirant Kennedy Mong’are took his colleagues in the Senate by surprise when he admitted that he had taken Cannabis Sativa, commonly referred to as bhang, during his child hood.

Mr Mong’are, who was contributing to a petition before the Senate seeking to decriminalize and legalise the cultivation, transportation and use of bhang in Kenya, criticized his colleagues for demeaning the proposal.

“Strict regulations don’t help. It is abused because of laws criminalizing it. The problem with Kenyans is living in denial,” Mr Mong’are said.

Mr Mong’are became a target of attack by his fellow lawmakers who 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.

LIST OF NARCOTICS

The Health committee has 60 days to look into the matter and report on whether bhang should be deleted from the list of narcotic drugs as listed in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1994.

In the petition, Mr Gwada Ogot, a researcher, writer and political analyst, is advocating for  the establishment of a bhang regulatory body – the Cannabis Sativa Board of Kenya (CSBK)- 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 due to the plant, he said, are due to its prohibition.

He said if legalized, bhang can be one of the country’s cash crops and contribute in improving people’s living standards besides, boosting the country’s revenue.

CRIMINALISING CANNABIS

“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.

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.

Nyandarua Senator Muriuki Karue said law enforcers cannot be trusted to allow cultivation, transportation and use of bhang for medicinal and industrial use.

The lawmakers expressed fears that the police and other bodies that would be mandated to regulate the plant could be compromised.

CAN’T TRUST THE SYSTEM

“Our system has proved that we can’t trust the system to regulate bhang,” Mr Karue 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.

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 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.