What marijuana legalization could look like in Kenya

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We’ve all indulged in weed at one point in our lives, for most people it comes with the newly attained freedom of joining university and socializing with peers. While others choose to take it rarely, some turn it into a drug of choice, occasionally using it for recreational purposes. Weed is smoked in driving cars, or on the verandas of residential homes, far away from the prying eye of legal enforcement.

This is due to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act of 1994, which classifies the possession, sale, growing and distribution of marijuana illegal.

Despite that, a recent survey showed that 82% of the population use marijuana, most users being the youth, 67% would want it to be legalized while 37% think that marijuana does not have any long-term side effects.

So, what if smoking marijuana became as simple as enjoying a cigarette? Gwada Ogot, from Siaya County is trying to do exactly that. He has petitioned the Senate in a push for marijuana, to be legalized in the country.

He argues that the plant has multiple documented health benefits. He says the medicinal and industrial uses of the plant, upon its legalization, will be of ‘great social and economic gains’.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Kenya has rapidly increased to 40% in 2011 from an all-time low of 12.70% in 2006. In an attempt to boost its economic ability, the country could tap into the licensing and regulating of marijuana trade within the country. This will allow “legal” employment to individuals who grow and distribute in an already existing open market.

Also, legalization could also encourage international trade through exports and imports of marijuana. Already existing markets abroad in countries such as the Netherlands are in high demand of special strains of marijuana specifically from Mt Kilimanjaro due to its potency.

The cannabis found in marijuana also has the capabilities to treat ailments such as Alzheimer, reduce anxiety, alleviate pain in arthritis, cancer, glaucoma, improve lung health and in HIV/AIDS it boosts suppressed appetite in patients and many more diseases.

In fact, more and more nations are encouraging the legal use of weed, with several US states and at least 25 countries that have decriminalized the use of cannabis.

We could borrow reforms like the ones applied in California, where the legal use of marijuana is strictly regulated. It only allows those who are 21 and older to possess, transport and buy up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and to use it for recreational purposes. Also, their initiative only allows non-medical marijuana to be sold by state-licensed businesses.

We could similarly look to Colorado, where the drug is also quite regulated. Each plant for sale is tagged with a radio frequency identification chip, from an early stage of its life to sale, to help the state track it. Marijuana, both in plant form and infused in products, is also required to be tested for potency and contaminants, and sold in child-resistant containers.

Positive effects include financial improvement and increase, with Colorado seeing up to $135 million in tax and fee revenue in 2015 from the recreational and medical marijuana industry, money that has gone to, education for youth, law enforcement on the drug, and other efforts. Other effects include a decrease in violent crime and arrest rates for cannabis related offenses.

Not every result is positive, with states legalizing weed noting an increase in cannabis-related poisoning, marijuana-related traffic fatalities, and emergency-room visits and hospital.

Coming back to Kenya, if the petition is successful, marijuana will be removed from the List of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1994. Furthermore, the petition asks that anyone currently serving jail terms for offenses related to marijuana be set free. As the 60-day deadline approaches, Kenyans are watching with anticipation to see if cannabis reform will eventually become part of their reality.