OpEd: The Legalisation of Cannabis in Kenya
Bhang, hashish, dagga, MJ — whatever you call it, the winds of change are blowing in its leaves. Worldwide, marijuana regulations are relaxing. Recreational use is legal in four countries and is decriminalised or unofficially tolerated in fifty more. In Africa, the South leads the trend: Recreational and medical marijuana are legal in South Africa; in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, medical use is legal; and in Lesotho it is permitted to farm marijuana for export. In the East, perhaps eyeing the global marijuana market — projected to be worth Ksh 10 trillion by 2026 — Uganda also now allows growing marijuana for export.
In Kenya — where 3.3 million people smoke herb — momentum has been building to follow suit. Starting in 2017, researchers began petitioning the government to decriminalise marijuana. In 2018, the late Kibra MP Ken Okoth tabled the Marijuana Control Bill 2018. In his wake, other public figures voiced support in 2019. The other week, the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya recommended legalising medical marijuana. Insider knowledge suggests that five licences have been granted to grow marijuana in Kenya, in spite of the government’s denial.
Despite this, marijuana remains fully illegal in Kenya — no ifs or buds about it (pun intended). So our question is: What is the right answer? Should Kenya jump on the bandwagon of legalisation or stay the course? We hear from two sides:
YES – LEGALISATION: A BHANG-UP IDEA
Where to begin? Let’s start with the economic benefit: Kenya is an ideal climate to grow bhang — over 100 firms have applied to grow next door in Uganda. Kenya also has nearly 40% youth unemployment and Ksh 6 trillion in public debt — the government would do well to create new sources of jobs and controlled tax revenue.
Second, the medical benefits of marijuana have been widely demonstrated. Marijuana has been shown to treat epilepsy, anxiety, cancer, pain and chronic pain conditions, glaucoma, nausea, weight loss, PTSD, and irritable bowel diseases.
Finally, pot is already consumed and produced in Kenya. Legalising it would enable regulation and quality controls. And since the threat of punishment does not seem to deter anyone, we should legalise marijuana and reduce the number of people who are fined and imprisoned for this innately harmless plant.
NO – NOT IN KENYA: TOKE A HIKE
Cannabis has no place in Kenya. First, the common myth that “marijuana is harmless” is false. Marijuana is linked to schizophrenia, and it has been shown to negatively impact brain development. 10% of regular users become addicted. And studies show an increase in driving accidents where cannabis is legal.
The tax revenue from legal weed sales is often touted. But we must also consider the expense of regulating marijuana and the long-term social costs (healthcare expenses, educational performance) from using pot. And why are we looking to give our politicians more tax dollars? We all know where those end up.
Finally, while bhang may already be commonplace in Kenya, legalising it would increase usage. Imagine if marijuana sat alongside cigarettes at the store? The “it’s already here” argument ignores the reality that more marijuana is worse than less — and legalisation will certainly lead to more of this harmful intoxicant.
What do you think? Add your voice to the conversation: @innetworknbo on Instagram #MJinKenya