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Kenya’s stringent drug abuse laws under spotlight

There is an unmet need for treatment and
There is an unmet need for treatment and rehabilitation services in the Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG 
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Kenya’s high conviction rate of prisoners, mainly the youth, for drug related offences will be in the spotlight today as the world mark’s this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

This year’s celebration is themed "Listen First - Listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe" and targets to increase support for prevention of drug use that is based on science and is thus an effective investment in the well-being of children and youth, their families and their communities.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNDOC) recommends a soft approach to handling drug abuse among children and youth saying they need to be listened to with “warmth and care” and offered opportunities and skills to help curb non-medicinal use of drugs.

However official data shows Kenya lags behind in assisting youth and children stay off drugs with the cases of imprisonment of offenders remaining on a climb over the years.

According to the Economic Survey 2018, although the number of persons reported to have committed offences related to dangerous drugs decreased by 24.6 per cent from 5,994 in 2016 to 4,519 in 2017, the number of prisoners convicted for offences related to drugs increased by 23.3 per cent to 5,397 in 2017 compared to the previous year—an indication of the country’s harsh policy on drug abuse.

The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) admits a flaw in the country’s fight against drug abuse.

“There is an unmet need for treatment and rehabilitation services in the Kenya” the state agency recommends in its latest report on drugs and substances of abuse in Kenya.

“There is need for NACADA and the county governments to allocate more resources to establish more treatment and rehabilitation centres across the country. In addition, there is need to explore community based out-reach services targeting the mild and moderate cases of SUDs (substance use disorders)”

A survey by NACADA shows abuse of drugs such as bhang is most prevalent among the youth aged 25-35 years (5.8 per cent)—way higher than the national user average of 4.5 per cent.

Besides handling drug abusers, the focus in Kenya is also likely shift to prior petitions to desist traditional perceptions and embrace ways in which cannabis or marijuana could be used medicinally and industrially to grow the economy.

In a petition to Senate speaker Kenneth Lusaka last year, a proposal seeking to decriminalize cannabis and to maximize on its economic potential sharply divided the house, with petitioner and cannabis activist Sammy Gwada Ogot maintaining that cannabis sativa (scientific name) has documented medicinal and industrial uses.

“Cannabis is Africa’s most valuable cash crop with capacity to satisfy her industrial, medicinal, spiritual and nutritional needs. Africa's revival is therefore intrinsically tied to its legalization,” Gwada Ogot said.

The senators led by the then minority leader Moses Wetangula argued that there is ultimately no need to discuss an illegal drug that has destroyed the lives of many young people in the country.

However, of the opioid drugs used by an estimated 200 million or 5 per cent of adult population globally, the latest United Nations office on drugs and crime (UNODC) report found that not a single consumer has been reported to have died from an overdose of cannabis compared to cocaine and heroin, and cigarettes and alcohol.

Actually, smoking and drinking cause millions of deaths Worldwide with about 6 million people dying from tobacco use and 2.5 million from harmful use of alcohol each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports.

With the legalization of medicinal cannabis already effected in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and South Africa (grown and used privately), and the pressure mounting on world governments to relook into its economic benefits, the countries where cannabis has been legalized are gunning to reap from its immense benefits, signaling a wider shift towards more liberal policies.

More than 10,000 tonnes of cannabis are produced on the continent each year, according to a UN survey, which advocates believe could be worth billions of dollars in a rapidly expanding global market for legal marijuana.

The international market for cannabis is projected to hit Sh3.1 trillion ($31.4) billion by 2021, according to a new report from the Brightfield Group quoted by Forbes magazine, a cannabis market research firm. Currently, the global market is estimated to be worth Sh700 billion ($7.7) billion and will see a compound annual growth rate of 60 per cent as other countries liberalize their marijuana laws. The U.S. currently drives 90 per cent of global cannabis sales, but its share will drop to 57 per cent by 2021 due to Canada’s plans to legalize cannabis.

Meanwhile, countries in Latin American and Europe are increasingly adopting medical cannabis programs. And German political parties are considering recreational legalization as part of their talks in forming a coalition government.

Hemp, or industrial hemp, typically found in the northern hemisphere, is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Harvard medical school publication authored by Dr. Peter Greenspoon, states that there are at least two active chemicals in cannabis or marijuana that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving properties and is largely responsible for the high.

But scientists say that limitations on marijuana research mean there lies a big questions about its medicinal properties. In addition to CBD and THC, there are another 400 or so chemical compounds, more than 60 of which are cannabinoids. Many of these could have medical uses. “But without more research, we won't know how to best make use of those compounds,” the report states.

“More research would also shed light on the risks of marijuana. Even if there are legitimate uses for medicinal marijuana, that doesn't mean all use is harmless,” he said, adding that, some research indicates that chronic, heavy users may have impaired memory, learning, and processing speed, especially if they started regularly using marijuana before age 16 or 17.

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