Uganda's cannabis news unveiled a deeper systemic injustice

Katpatuka, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Uganda's cannabis news unveiled a deeper systemic injustice

26 June 2023
André Gomes
Talking Drugs

Uganda, compared to its neighbouring countries, continues to have a harsh enforcement of drug prohibition. That is why news broke two weeks ago that the Controlled Substances Act was nullified, it reverberated across the international community.

This surprising decision came out after news in early May about a petition filed in 2017 by Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited, a group of miraa (khat) Ugandan cultivators. This petition sought to repeal the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act of 2016, challenging that there had been a lack of quorum by Parliament during its passing, meaning that there had not been enough parliamentarians present during its vote to qualify as a constitutional decision.

Understandably, the news that a Drug Control Act had been repealed led to pre-emptive celebrations from some, claiming that the drugs it controlled were now, somehow, legal. But the Judiciary Court quickly clarified, “the substances previously restricted under the National Drug Policy and Authority Act [2016] remain restricted… For now, it should be known that the Constitutional Court did not and has never legalised the use of the restricted drugs and/or substances under the impugned law.”

This is because the National Drug Policy and Authority Act of 1993 still remains in place; and while it is an antiquated document – still referring to cannabis as “Indian hemp” – that mostly served to implement the UN’s international control schedules in Uganda, it still prohibited the consumption, sale and production of controlled substances.

TalkingDrugs contacted Isaac Ssemakadde, a human rights lawyer that represented Wakiso, to understand the story behind the nullification, and what this means for drug control in Uganda. Behind the cannabis-focused headlines laid an incredulous story of political mishaps, erroneous enforcement of khat’s criminalisation, and the unjust arrest of hundreds of people using, growing and selling this plant across Uganda.