NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 6 – Gwada Ogot, the petitioner behind the push to legalize the use of cannabis for medical and industrial use in Kenya has told the Senate Health Committee that the law criminalising the drug is defective.
Appearing before the Senator Wilfred Machage-led committee on Thursday mid-morning, Ogot said the weed species criminalized in law does not in fact exist in the country and those jailed on account of being in possession of it could be behind bars illegally.
“Marijuana is not a narcotic drug. Even our constitution is not clear on it because we talk about cannabis sativa (industrial hemp) but what we have in Kenya is cannabis indica and that has an impact on the law,” Ogot argued.
“What does it mean when people are in jail for being in possession of cannabis sativa yet what they had was cannabis indica?,” he posed.
Ogot pointed out the existence of three variants of cannabis namely; cannabis indica (marijuana), cannabis sativa and cannabis ruderalis saying the first variety which is readily available in the country can be used for medicinal purposes hence lessening the burden of most ailments afflicting people.
He told the committee that marijuana was far less addictive compared to other commonly used drugs including tobacco which has far damaging effects on users’ health.
“Marijuana leads to dependence in around 9-10 percent of its users, cocaine leads to about 20 per cent and heroine 25 percent. Tobacco is the worst culprit with 30 per cent of its users becoming addicted,” he said.
The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance in the United States in August 14, 1970, Ogot said created a wrong perception on it despite studies showing the plant was by far less addictive compared to cocaine which is classified as a Schedule two II substance.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there are five broad schedules of drug and substances with the first defined as those “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Schedule II substances on the other hand are defined as “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence” according to DEA.
Ogot argued that there was a conspiracy in classifying marijuana in Schedule I despite other drugs with severe effects being classified in lower schedules.
The classification he said also hindered scientists from obtaining the cannabis for tests and experiments for revision of its classification as alluded to by US Assistant Secretary of Health Dr Roger Egeberg in 1970 when the drug was placed under Schedule I.
“Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within Schedule I at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue,” CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon by profession quotes Egeberg in an article entailed – Why I changed my mind on weed published on August 9, 2013.
The economic benefits of marijuana according to Ogot have the potential of transforming the country given the fact that the plant can be used to manufacture cheap paper and plastic.
“Industrial hemp and marijuana are industries on their own and in view of the shortage of jobs here I think it’s just a taxman’s dream to have an industry that is multibillion in prospect and can contribute to our national kitty while providing employment,” he said.
The possession of cannabis is only legal in South Africa, Uruguay, with Spain only legalizing its possession in private areas.
In Argentina and Australia, cannabis is only decriminalized for personal use and medical and scientific purposes.
The committee chairperson said it will invite members of the public and experts on health and economy to make submissions before presenting a final report to the Senate.