Is medical cannabis already legal in Kenya?

Medical practitioners and registered pharmacists are allowed to legally possess medical cannabis. [iStockphoto]

There is a growing conversation in Kenya regarding the push to either de-criminalise or legalise cannabis. Those who are for or against the legalisation of cannabis agree that "it should be legalised for medical purposes". But isn't medical cannabis already legal in Kenya?

The Narcotics Act has criminalised the possession of cannabis in Section 3(1). The section criminalising possession states "3(1) Subject to subsection (3), any person who has in his possession any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance (Cannabis) shall be guilty of an offense.

Subsection 3 of the Act states that "3(3) Subsection (1) shall not apply to...(b) a medical practitioner, dentist, veterinary surgeon or registered pharmacist who is in possession of a narcotic drug (Cannabis) or psychotropic substance for any medical purposes; or (c) a person who possesses the narcotic drug (Cannabis) or psychotropic substance for medical purposes from, or pursuant to a prescription of, a medical practitioner, dentist or veterinary surgeon."

Two facts are established: First, medical practitioners and registered pharmacists are allowed to legally possess medical cannabis for their patients, and second, patients who have been issued with a prescription for medical cannabis by a medical practitioner are allowed to possess it.

If doctors and pharmacists are allowed to prescribe and possess medical cannabis; and patients are allowed to possess medical cannabis under a prescription, why does the medical fraternity allege it is illegal? The KMPDU together with the pharmaceutical society need to clarify why they allege that medical cannabis is illegal in Kenya.

Is this intentional due to the presence of big pharmaceutical companies in Kenya? In my interaction with specialist medical practitioners in one of the top hospitals, they stated "We know medical cannabis is legal in Kenya for patients with a prescription, but if we prescribe medical cannabis to a patient, we are going to lose our jobs with the Hospital".

The Poisons List Confirmation Order provides a list of substances to be treated as poisons. Listed as number 42 in the Order is "Cannabis". There are also the Pharmacy and Poisons Rules that give provisions for the Importation of Part I poisons (Cannabis). Section 3(2) of these Rules states that the PPB may issue an import license authorising the importation of a Part I poison (Cannabis) to "(f) any duly qualified medical practitioner who satisfies the board that he is urgently in need of a drug or poison which he is unable to obtain in Kenya; (g) a hospital at and of which a medical practitioner registered under the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Act, is resident and in direct control."

In light of the above, it is illustrated that medical cannabis is legal in Kenya. But why are doctors not prescribing it despite scientific evidence proving it can treat various ailments?

- The author is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and an expert on industrial hemp