LEGALISE

Bhang criminalization discriminatory, hurting the poor

Kenya needs a national conversation to establish a a policy framework on bhang use

In Summary

• Bhang, when well regulated and framed within the larger drugs policy of countries, has had advantages not only around its medical use but also on the more culturally practised and accepted traditional medicine.

• The Narcotics and Substances Act of 1992 needs a review while at the same time government extending funds to carry out comprehensive researches on the merits and demerits of production, consumption and commercial use of marijuana.

Administrators uproot bhang from a farm at Pap Ndege village in Homa Bay on Friday, June 4, 2021.
Administrators uproot bhang from a farm at Pap Ndege village in Homa Bay on Friday, June 4, 2021.
Image: ROBERT OMOLLO

Kenya needs a national conversation that will lead to establishing an informed and topical policy framework on the use of cannabis Sativa (bhang) without hurting a section of the citizens.

This should be devoid of emotions, lies, misinformation and stale data and has previously been used in discussions on bhang use in Kenya.

Bhang, when well regulated and framed within the larger drugs policy of countries, has had advantages not only around its medical use but also on the more culturally practised and accepted traditional medicine, fun, ritualistic and stimulation/enhancement especially for guys working in manual jobs.

Among other stimulants that may have a non-medicinal value that is commonly used include alcohol, tobacco and shisha. Shisha was banned recently.

The Narcotics and Substances Act of 1992 needs a review while at the same time government extending funds to carry out comprehensive researches on the merits and demerits of production, consumption and commercial use of marijuana.

There are human rights especially economic, social and cultural rights that are being violated in the continued criminalization of the use of bhang.

It's time we allowed a public participation national exercise of which way for Kenya on the management of bhang, especially as a medicinal plant.

We are talking about a guided and regulated bhang sector within the larger country’s drug policy.

There is already a traditional/herbal medicine legal framework for the country and bhang use can easily fit here.

Those found with the effects that come with bhang abuse will be treated just the way alcohol abusers are treated and handled.

Marijuana is commonly used in Kenya even within the current prohibition by law and attempts to discuss a re-evaluation of the current legal framework that would have allowed more open discussions on the bhang supported by both scientific and other kinds of research to help in making informed decisions on the matter have been half-hearted, emotional and very conservative. 

Given that bhang is currently illegal in Kenya, in terms of planting, moving and use, any discussion around it creates stigma and fear, for you will easily be labelled supporting the use of drugs, and in this case criminality.

At this stage, it might be prudent to say plainly what the country policy should be, but to allow especially public and media discussions and debate about marijuana.

Currently, the people who are bearing the greatest brunt of the prohibition of marijuana use are in the rural areas and informal settlements, within the youth brackets.

Many are languishing in cells unable to pay fines arising from being found with the plant.

Given the poverty levels, and related depression, many youths and rural dwellers unable to afford retreats, enjoyment or perpetually broke and unable to afford meals consistently, turn to bhang which is affordable and easily available, for stimulation and enhancement before engaging in manual labour, which enables them to earn a living.

Outside this, bhang has a huge medicinal value that, if looked into the wider discussion, about the country in the effort to extend universal health coverage to Kenya’s is ruing using both conventional and traditional medicine, the bhang is a key priority option.

Once such options are considered, the usual criminal angle associated with the use of bhang will be dealt with, as the country will develop a national drugs policy that will upon decriminalization, guide the use of the plant, especially as it relates to treating people.

Other countries including Lesotho, Ghana, South Africa and Malawi have allowed a robust national conversation on the use with a possible shift of policy on the use of bhang.

If other countries have removed legal prohibitions on bhang, thus created a demand for the plant, why can't we create a vibrant legal and policy framework to guide commercial production of the plant, so that it becomes a source of revenue for the country and farmers. 

Research is available on the limiting use of other hard drugs, by bhang users and again in such areas as along the Coast experiencing huge drugs problem, bhang could be used in the rehabilitation interventions with a measure of success.

Counties like Busia, Kakamega, Vihiga, Nyamira, Kisii, Siaya, Taita Taveta, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Kilifi counties which, are known suppliers of marijuana would then do it legally generate income.

Currently, those counties have illegal bhang farms, which only benefit the security agencies and brokers who control the trade.

While there is genuine concern about criminal activities related to the abuse of bhang, and the wider negative perception around it, traditionally if the use could be controlled by way of which people could use it, which specific areas were designated for its use and related, laws such as those guiding the use of tobacco and alcohol can as well be used to guide the use of bhang.