On September 6, 2023, Uganda’s parliament made a significant change in the country’s approach to controlled substances. They passed a new law called the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill 2023. This law allows people to grow marijuana for medical purposes under specific conditions while also imposing strict penalties for substance abuse-related offences. The decision to pass this law followed a court ruling in May that nullified the 2016 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Control Act due to legal challenges from the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association.
The court’s decision was mainly based on the fact that the parliament didn’t have enough members present when they passed the 2016 law. After three lengthy sessions, the 94-clause bill was ratified in August 2023, leading to intense debates among lawmakers. The first part of this new law will come into effect soon, pending approval from the president. Wilson Kajwengye, the chairman of the Defense and Internal Affairs committee, stressed the importance of addressing regulatory gaps related to narcotics and psychotropic substances.
The purpose of this new law is to bring Uganda’s stance on drug and psychotropic substance abuse in line with countries that have strict regulations against them. The law permits the cultivation of marijuana and khat solely for medical and authorized purposes. Those who violate this law can expect severe consequences, including losing their assets, long imprisonment, and hefty fines.
Kajwengye suggested that licences for cultivating and using these substances should be issued by the Ministry of Health to ensure they are used for medical purposes, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs should be responsible for enforcing these regulations.
Khat will also be considered a controlled substance, and its cultivation and use will require licenses and medical prescriptions. International obligations will govern the regulation of both cannabis and khat. Efforts to exclude khat from the list of controlled substances were unsuccessful. Asha Kabanda Nalule’s proposal to remove khat from the list was overwhelmingly rejected, with Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka warning of increasing substance-related problems if khat remained unregulated.
The new law includes strict measures, such as life imprisonment for anyone administering narcotics or psychotropic substances to minors (Clause 10) and the requirement for farmers cultivating prohibited substances to obtain licenses (Clause 11). Pharmacists who prescribe restricted drugs could face significant fines or up to ten years in prison, according to Clause 7. Medical professionals who violate these regulations could be removed from the professional registry under Clause 8.
While proposals to include police and army personnel in specific provisions were declined, the state minister for Internal Affairs, General David Muhoozi, praised the law’s enactment, emphasizing its role in reducing the social impact of substance abuse.
Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa urged parents to closely monitor their children’s well-being, highlighting the importance of this legislation for families dealing with substance abuse issues.