It was very telling that hours after Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i made an emotional rejection for the legalisation of medical marijuana at Pangani Girls High school last week police intercepted Sh5 million worth of the drug in Thika.
“How is it that we are debating on things that have no value? It will not happen. Because we must protect our children,” vowed Mr Matiang'i.
“Which government will accept those kinds of things? Don’t tell me that it is business. This is business leading to the death and destruction of our children. You cannot make money at the altar of destroying our young people.”
A few hours later, officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) raided a house at Makongeni in Nairobi and impounded bhang worth Sh5 million.
The bhang, which was from Migori, was en route to Garissa before making its way across the border, investigations show.
Still on the same day, two women were arrested with four kilogrammes of bhang at a roadblock at Learata Wamba Junction in Samburu East.
The two, Zainab Adan and Insene Bakala Guyo, were aboard a Moyale Raha bus heading to Nairobi from Moyale.
“When you see bhang traffickers change and start using trucks that can carry huge quantities, then we have to agree as a country we have a problem. As a service we have decided to deal with it by trying to dismantle the cartels,” says Mr Owino Wahongo, the police spokesman.
What is worrying the police is how traffickers have increased the volumes of bhang they are transporting at a go and the development of new methods of transport aimed at evading the authorities.
Two weeks ago, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) customs officials intercepted bhang disguised as herbal soap at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) while on transit to London.
The 2kg of bhang seized by sniffer dogs had been packaged in 20 boxes each weighing 100 grammes.
On May 20, detectives trailed a tanker from Moyale to Nakuru before impounding it and finding bhang weighing more than a tonne with a street value of Sh3.6 million.
A week earlier on May 12, police in Samburu had intercepted bhang worth Sh8 million after a lorry that was being used to ferry the drug developed a mechanical problem at Kirimon.
On the same day, police in Kasarani intercepted a petroleum tanker that was ferrying bhang worth Sh6 million.
Three weeks before this seizure, police in Marsabit unearthed 5kg of bhang that was hidden in tyres of a car travelling from Moyale.
“There is higher consumption of bhang, that is for sure; and it is not just a Kenyan thing. It is a global thing because we have children as young as nine now using bhang,” says Vincent Muasya, a director at the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada).
So high is the demand of marijuana that a stick of bhang that was retailing at Sh10 just two years ago has shot to Sh50 in the alleys of Nairobi and around Sh100 in the middle-income areas.
The amount charged per stick depends on the origin, with Malawian marijuana being the most expensive followed by Ethiopian. The drug has even found its way in confectioneries, being baked in cakes, muffins, cookies.
A cookie made from pure marijuana goes for Sh100 a piece. For users who want a more potent kick, the marijuana is laced with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
According to the police, Kenya’s creeping bhang problem is partly geographical. “We don’t have plantations in the country, but you see people smoking. That bhang has to be coming from somewhere and it is from neighbouring countries where production is high,” says Mr Wahongo.
Most of the bhang consumed comes from Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. From Tanzania, it enters Kenya through Tarime before being transported to Kisii where it is redistributed.
Bhang from Uganda comes through Busia or Malaba and is taken to Kisumu for redistribution, while cannabis from Ethiopia passes through Moyale.
The completion of the Trans-Africa highway connecting Kenya to Ethiopia in 2017 not only enhanced trade between the two countries but also provided a new market for bhang growers from the Shashamane islands up north.
Uganda has for several years had some level of tolerance for use of cannabis and recently kick started a process to export medical marijuana.
Starting next month, Uganda will be hoping to make a reported $5.91 billion by exporting medical marijuana products to Canada and Germany.
Tanzania has been ranked consistently by the UN as being among the top 10 countries with the biggest marijuana seizures per year globally. Only Morocco and Nigeria outrank Tanzania in terms of the acreage under marijuana cultivation in Africa.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Control Act, 1994 outlaws any cultivation, use, possession, distribution or sale of bhang.
Anyone found guilty of possession of marijuana will be imprisoned for 10 years. “Right now around the world, people are talking about legalising bhang and some countries have even done it. We even had that debate in Kenya last year and sadly the youth have taken it that it is fashionable to consume bhang,” says Dr Philomena Ndambuki, a psychologist at the Kenyatta University.
Mr Muasya disputes Dr Ndambuki’s observation. “That content you are talking about is a reflection of how we are living as a society. People, especially the youth, are idle, and they are just smoking, drinking and thinking about immorality. We should instead focus on how we can correct these things,” he says.