Khat (mairungi) growers in Wakiso District have petitioned the Constitutional Court, seeking an interim order blocking the Internal Affairs Minister from making regulations listing the plant as a prohibited drug.
The farmers under their umbrella organisation of “Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Ltd”, claim that the disputed act intended to prohibit the growing of mairungi is not backed by scientific evidence proving the plant as a narcotic drug.
Their petition follows the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 2014, which outlaws the growing of the crop in Uganda’s territorial boundaries.
The law stipulates that any person found in possession of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substance commits an offence and is liable to a fine of not less than 500 currency points (10 million Shillings) or three times the market value of the drug on conviction
The offenders under the law, passed last year, could also face a jail sentence of up to ten years.
But the farmers say that since the enactment of the act, the minister has neither consulted them, nor publicly announced modalities to guide consultations before regulations are made. Subsequently, the farmers argue, that the move to blacklist khat as one of the prohibited plants will disrupt their livelihood.
“The absence of government plan for stakeholder consultations… has thus confirmed-that the minister, police and the prosecuting bodies have deliberately kept their law enforcement plans to themselves so as to subject them to uncertain, secret, exclusion and draconian disruptive law enforcement action” reads in part the suit
They add that police and other security agencies have routinely carried out law enforcement operations in Kasenge, Wakiso District, Kisenyi in Kampala City and other places where mairungi growing and dealing are predominantly carried out under the misguided view that these activities are already banned.
They now contend that unless a court order is issued, the government intends to continue with the operationalization of the law by making laws that will determine the enforcement day for the prohibition of growing and dealing in mairungi and permit unmitigated infringement on the rights and livelihoods of people who depend on the growing of this crop.
Khat is a flowering evergreen shrub often chewed with gum.
The World Health Organisation classifies khat as a drug that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence. According to research, chewing khat is the most prevalent form of drug abuse across the East African region.
Various medical reports have indicated that chewing khat, also known as miraa in some parts of the world, leads to increased energy levels, alertness, confidence and mood elevation. The plant contains many different compounds that could trigger acute cardiovascular effects while prolonged use has been linked to insomnia.