alexa Migori residents step up clamour for bhang legalisation after Canada's move - Daily Nation

Migori residents step up clamour for bhang legalisation after Canada's move

Friday October 19 2018

Police officers inspect bhang

Police officers inspect bhang estimated to be worth Sh330,000 at a home in Mtomondoni, Kilifi County on October 13, 2018. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

VIVERE NANDIEMO
By VIVERE NANDIEMO
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The recent legalisation of bhang in South Africa and Canada may have happened thousands of kilometres away, but it is exciting some locals in Migori County.

On Wednesday, Canada became the first major Western nation to legalise bhang for recreational use.

In Migori, police have this year been routinely impounding cars loaded with rolls of bhang. Just last week, they seized a vehicle ferrying what is believed to be bhang worth Sh2.6 million.

FOREIGN DEBT

Now residents have called on the national government to legalise the use of marijuana, arguing that several countries in the world are also doing so.

The youth, who spoke to Nation on Friday, said the drug has "several benefits to them" and that its trade should be encouraged as a source of revenue to the country.

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"The world is now realising the importance of marijuana and that is why countries like Canada and South Africa have legalised its use. Why is the Kenyan government choosing to remain behind? It is time this drug is legalised because after all, scores of people are using it anyway," said Mr Mwita Omahe from Isibania town.

He added: "Bhang trade should be allowed in the country as it will act as a crucial source of revenue. We know right now the government is struggling with foreign debt and ballooning wage bill and that is why President Uhuru Kenyatta recently approved the hike in fuel taxes. I can assure you that should bhang be legalised, the government will collect huge revenues because bhang users are many in the country."

SMUGGLED FROM TANZANIA

Mr Emmanuel Kehaga, another resident of Isibania, said: "If South Africa and Canada are legalising weed (colloquial for bhang) why not Kenya? These are big economies in the world and yet they know why bhang is important. Kenya should follow suit."

At Migori town's Pandpieri estate, notorious for bhang smoking, scores of youth also agitated for the legalisation of the drug. "We want the government to legalise this thing because it is medicinal and as youth who use it, we know its enormous benefits," said a man, only identified as Rasta.

Bhang menace is common in Migori County. Security officials have been battling illicit bhang trade, which has been fuelled by county's proximity to Tanzania. Huge hauls of bhang, smuggled from Tanzania, are more often confiscated in the county as they are being transported to other parts of the country.

Bhang is freely grown in Tanzania, where it has not been illegalised. This has led to a thriving business at the Kenya-Tanzania border. Kenyan security officials argue that close to 85 per cent of bhang consumed in Kenya comes from Tanzania.

Multiple reports have indicated that the illegal trade is conducted even by prominent people in both the county and national governments.

ALARM RAISED

Police in Migori have, however, maintained that they have stepped up efforts to crack down on the trade. "We have doubled our efforts to curb bhang smuggling and trade in the county. This explains why there have been many cases of bhang being seized in the county," said Mr Joseph Rotich, the Migori County Commissioner.

However, police dragnets have not largely deterred bhang use in the county. While the police seem to be keen to stop large-scale smuggling, small-scale traders of the drug in the county freely go about their business. They casually cross the border, buy the drug and come back to the country to retail it.

Bhang users in the county consume it more freely. In Kuria, it is not unusual to meet bhang users openly "enjoying their puffs", eliciting concerns from parents and local leaders who have decried the high number of youth, who are hooked to the drug. "Something needs to be done as our youth are lost in bhang smoking. As a result, cases of robbery, rape and organised crime are on the rise. The security officials need to step in a detonate this ticking time bomb," said Mr Charles Mwita, a pastor in a local church in Kuria East.

PUBLIC DEBATE

During a casual visit to Pandpieri estate in the heart of Migori town, one is sure to be welcomed by a pungent smell of marijuana. The estate has gained notoriety in the town for alleged unlawful activities.

Opposition chief Raila Odinga's son, Raila Jr, kicked off the public debate on the issue when he called for the drug's legalisation in the country.

Kibra MP Ken Okoth supported the calls and even wrote to National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi asking for facilitation in preparing the Marijuana Control Bill, which seeks to decriminalise its growth and use in the country.

In the draft bill, the legislator seeks regulation for the growth and safe use of the stimulant and another one known as hemp. This includes the registration of growers, producers, manufacturers and users, with special focus on protection of children or minors from its illicit use.

But the actual authorisation of its use may take longer as it requires at least three steps of debate in Parliament and a presidential assent to the bill once passed.