Uganda’s constitutional court on Friday repealed the country’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 2015 which, among other things, prohibited the sale and use of several narcotic drugs in the country.
This follows a 2017 petition to the court by farmers growing miraa (khat) under their umbrella body Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited.
The farmers were seeking the overturning of a parliamentary decision to ban the sale and use of miraa which they said was inconsistent with principles of legality, equality, rationality and proportionality guaranteed under the constitution since they were never consulted.
The farmers also contested the manner in which the law prohibited the cultivation, possession, consumption, sale, purchase, warehousing, distribution, transportation, exportation, importation and other dealings in the crop.
They said this decision was not backed up by any evidence, scientific or otherwise.
A panel of five judges at the court threw out the law on a technicality, ruling that the manner in which it was enacted was illegal and repealing it was the only remedy because of a requirement by the parliamentary rules of procedure of having quorum before any bill is passed.
“In the premises, I would declare the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 2015 null and void for lack of quorum on the part of parliament, contrary to articles 88 and 89 of the constitution and rule 23 of the Rules of Procedure of the 9th parliament, 2012 made, pursuant to articles 88 and 94 of the constitution,” Uganda’s Justice Muzamiru Mutangula Kibeedi said in his lead judgement.
Other judges on the panel included the country’s Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, Justice Stephen Musota, Justice Irene Mulyagonja and Justice Monica Mugyenyi.
According to the ruling, at the stage of voting, any bill must receive the sufficient number of votes in order for it to be lawfully passed.
The sufficient number of votes consists of a majority of the quorum and that any bill passed without this procedure being followed is null and void.
“I have already established that from the above evidence before this court, the speaker failed to ascertain the quorum as required by rule 23(3) of the rules of procedure of the 9th parliament, 2012. I have also made a finding that the evidence before court supported the petitioners’ claim that there was no quorum at the time of passing the bill for the enactment of the act,” Justice Kibeedi ruled.
In repealing the entire act, Justice Kibeedi ruled that since the provisions that banned dealing in miraa were not handled by parliament independent of the rest of the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 2015, it was only prudent that the entire law is nullified.
Mr Vincent Kizito, the chairman for the petitioners, called the development a big victory to miraa farmers noting that several research done show the drug is both food and medicine.
“Previously our members have been arrested, businesses destroyed, and many others lost property. Following the enactment of the law, our businesses crippled as we could no longer export and sell freely yet we have enough scientific research to prove that Miraa is not dangerous,” Kizito said.