Bhang still illegal in Kenya, Nacada says

Smoking bhang

A young man smoking bhang.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The United Nations’ commission on narcotic drugs has removed marijuana from list of most dangerous drugs.

The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) has warned against any 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 CEO 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.

The commission on December 02, 2020 voted to reschedule the cannabis plant and cannabis resin by removing it from the strictest schedule - Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

But in a press statement Okioma stated that Kenya did not support any of the recommendations and instead advocated for the retention of 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,” Okioma said.

He said the decision by the UN Commission was based on the argument that having cannabis plant and cannabis resin in both schedules did not limit states’ access to the substance for medical and scientific purposes.

However, Okioma said the multi-sectoral technical committee that participated in the rescheduling process under his leadership holds that the herb is still harmful and illegal in Kenya.

“The vote to delete cannabis plant and cannabis resin from most dangerous substances is not an endorsement of recreational use of cannabis or a recognition that Cannabis is less harmful. It only means that cannabis plant and resin have moved from a stricter schedule,” Okioma said.

“Though the move eases member states’ access to cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, it does not in any way legalise the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.”  

Mr Okioma said the herb and its resin are still listed among substances regarded as highly addictive, highly liable for abuse and particularly harmful with little or no therapeutic use.

Dangerous substances

“The Commission classified it as one of the most dangerous substances and thereby, limiting its access for medical and scientific purposes only. This is because Cannabis still remains listed in Schedule 1 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,” Okioma said.

WHO had in January 2019 recommended the rescheduling of Cannabis and Cannabis-related substances under the International Drug Control Conventions.

In submitting their recommendations, WHO indicated that upon review of the chemical composition of cannabis, had noted that cannabis has delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) as the principal psychoactive constituent and many other Cannabidiols (CBD) that are not psychoactive.

When the non-psychoactive components of cannabis are extracted and subjected to a controlled pharmaceutical process, the drug so produced may be used in treatment of several ailments including chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and sleep disorders.

The Wednesday vote following a rigorous consultative process that lasted for two years, member states polled on WHO recommendations.

However, proposals to lift bans on seven other substances with bhang as components were rejected.

“The rejection of the seven recommendations is a breakthrough in the global fight against drug abuse as it sent a strong message to the world that cannabis is, and remains, a harmful substance and should be handled with utmost care and precaution,” Okioma said.  

“Kenya is pleased at the rejection of the seven recommendations in particular proposal to remove from international control any product containing 0.2 percent of the psychoactive component of cannabis, Delta 9- (THC).”

Okioma said if adopted, the recommendation would have opened up the world to the recreational use of cannabis and the legalisation of all manner of cannabis-laced edibles despite their obvious risk to health and socio-economic effects on the people including the youth.

The multi-sectoral committee which comprises all key government agencies notes that Cannabis is still under international control as it remains listed in the two treaties and to access it must adhere to the rules and procedures set by the International Narcotic Control Board and proper returns made.

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