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Rastafari seek to legalise bhang consumption

The Rastafari Society of Kenya has sought to decriminalize the use of marijuana.

In a case filed before the High Court, the society argued the law criminalizing the private use of cannabis is unconstitutional.

They expressed their wish to be allowed to smoke the drug which ‘connects’ them to their maker.

“Cannabis can be spiritually referred to as bhang, marijuana, holy herb, kushungpeng, tire, ndom, vela, gode and kindukulu,” the Chairperson, Ras Lojiron said.

According to Ras Lojironi, police continue to harass, intimidate, arrest and cause prosecution, persecution, and even imprison their members for privately growing and using cannabis for spiritual purposes and for the sole purpose of connecting with the ‘Almighty Creator’.

“The impugned law which was enacted in the year 1994 is hostile and intolerant to persons professing the Rastafari faith yet we are in a new constitutional framework following the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 that is progressive and accommodative of diversity,” they said through Lawyer Shadrack Wambui.

The plaintiff wants the court to quash section 3(2) (a) of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act.

Last year, the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) warned against assumptions that marijuana has been legalised in the country after the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed it from the list of the most dangerous drugs.

NACADA Chief Executive Victor Okioma said Kenya’s position in recognition of cannabis potential for abuse and the obvious health risks as well as the heightened level of abuse both globally and nationally remains.

Okioma said Kenya did not support any of the recommendations and instead advocated for the retention of the cannabis plant and cannabis resin in both Schedule 1 and IV of the 1961 Convention.

“Kenya is at liberty to tighten its controls on cannabis or any other substance despite the global vote to delete cannabis from Schedule IV of the Convention. As such, all is not lost, the leash is still in our hands,” Mr Okioma said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had in January 2019 recommended the rescheduling of Cannabis and Cannabis-related substances under the International Drug Control Conventions.

The Rastafarians now join the growing chorus pushing for the legalisation of marijuana, popularly known as weed.

Cannabis Sativa is the world’s most popular drug and is the highest value therapeutic crop known at the moment, despite being illegal in many parts of the world, including Kenya.

In 2018, former Kibra Member of Parliament Ken Okoth wrote to the Speaker of the National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi to facilitate him in preparing a Bill, the Marijuana Control Bill, which sought to decriminalise the growth and use of the stimulant.

Marijuana is considered a narcotic in Kenya and its cultivation, possession and use are a criminal offence under the Penal Code.

One can be jailed for between 10 and 20 years, if convicted even as the drug is widely used or abused by many people locally.

Scientists have hailed the drug’s medicinal value with research showing that it is effective in fighting chronic pain, some cancers, glaucoma, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and depression among others.

The late Okoth, who died of cancer, in his draft Bill to parliament, sought to have a regulation for the growth and safe use of the stimulant, including the registration of growers, producers, manufacturers and users.

The late MP also wanted research and policy development on growth and use of marijuana and help for medical, industrial, textile and recreational purposes “with a focus on preservation of intellectual property rights for Kenyan research and natural heritage, knowledge and our indigenous plant assets.”

Lesotho, South Africa and Zimbabwe are some of the African countries that have relaxed rules on the drug’s medicinal and recreational use.