Cabinet huffs, puffs over ‘ganja’ planter

Police officers burn marijuana that was uprooted from Buikwe District recently. PHOTO BY DENIS EDEMA

KAMPALA- First lady Janet Museveni and other Cabinet ministers have called the proposed medical marijuana growing deal “satanic” and rejected the marijuana growing licence issued to an Israeli company without Cabinet approval.
Ms Museveni told a recent Cabinet meeting chaired by the President that decriminalising cannabis in Uganda, whether for medical purposes or otherwise, is “satanic and will kill the future of our children”.
Mr David Bahati, the State minister of Planning and Ms Sarah Opendi, the State minister for Health, also called for the cancellation of the cannabis growing licence and asked Cabinet to be cautious about unintended benefits. They insisted that marijuana is a banned crop and any attempts to issue licence to companies involved offends the law of Uganda.

Gen Mose Ali, the deputy premier, also asked Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health minister, who presented a brief on the proposed marijuana farm in Uganda, to provide “scientific evidence” that cannabis can cure HIV and other illnesses.

However, Maj Gen Otafiire, the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and Mr Hillary Onek, the minister of Relief and Disaster preparedness, supported the estab lishment of a marijuana farm in Uganda. The two ministers, according to Cabinet sources, defended medical-marijuana. They argued that cannabis has downsides, but speculation and fear should be replaced with the evidence on the chemicals that may treat symptoms of health problems.

After listening to ministers’ views on marijuana, the President ordered Dr Aceng and her team in the Ministry of Health to do more research on the health benefits of cannabis and also look at the regulation on marijuana. She was given up to May 15 to brief Cabinet before a decision is taken on the matter.

Cabinet heard that Uganda Investment Authority, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and National Drugs Authority helped Industrial Globus Pharma Uganda Ltd, a subsidiary of Together Pharma from Israel to secure a licence from Uganda Investment Authority (UIA). The disputed licence was issued on March 18 to grow medical marijuana in the in Kasese District and other areas.

This company is working with another company-Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd founded and legally incorporated in 2012 and is currently growing and processes medical cannabis. The company has a licence and is currently supervised by Ministry of Health.

Sources told Daily Monitor that the two companies had already started planting the banned crop and were in the process of signing a joint venture deal for the sale of cosmetics with Premier Dead Sea - one of Israel’s leading manufacturers of cosmetics.

According to a confidential company document titled: ‘Production of Medicinal Cannabis and setting up of Pharmaceutical Facility’, the internationally approved pharmaceutical medicines include: Sativex, Marinol and Syndros, Epidiolex, among others and that one of the cannabis companies is making active pharmaceutical ingredients for the medicine.

The document adds: “The cannabis plant has been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries among various cultures across the globe. Our vision is to help bring East Africa Community into the booming global Cannabis industry that is growing fast in the developed countries.”

At risk
The proprietors insisted that they have been operating under the Narcotic and physcholopic substances (control) Act 2015.
The international medical cannabis market is estimated at approximately $55 billion annually.

Dr Emely Kugonza, the UIA chairman, in an interview, said: “Investment licences are issued after approval of other key agencies like in this case NDA. Licensing is a function of management of UIA…in this case all processes were dully followed which the [Investment] minister also acknowledged.”

The Ms Evelyn Anite, the State Minister of Finance for Investment and Privatisation, however, told Daily Monitor on Wednesday that she was not consulted and has since ordered that the marijuana licences be halted until Cabinet guides on the matter. She has also opened internal investigations into the matter.

Dr Medard Bitekyerezo, the NDA chairman, said: “NDA just advises and has no mandate to give a licence to any marijuana grower and my board was not in it. Licences to grow marijuana is by minister of Health.”

Although Dr Aceng was not available to comment, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, said the matter is at Cabinet level and, therefore, he is not privy to the details. He diverted all the questions to Dr Aceng, who according to Cabinet sources is also opposed to the marijuana farm.