Senator Ledama Olekina and researcher Gwada Ogot want marijuana legalised

Sen. Ledama Olekina: Politicians are hypocrites. [Bryan Amulyoto/Spice FM]

Narok Senator Ledama Olekina and researcher, author and theorist Gwada Ogot believe it's time Kenyans start having a conversation on the economic benefits of legalising marijuana.

"Let me not kid you. Right now, in parliament, probably 80 per cent of the lawmakers smoke marijuana,” Lekina told Spice FM Wednesday.

During the radio talk-show, the duo challenged the status quo in a country that sees the plant as a taboo topic even though it might be the pot of gold that could save the country from many of its woes.

"Marijuana is the world's most profitable crop. marijuana can transform our national economy. It’s able to sort the doctors' and the teachers' salary. marijuana is the only basis for a universal healthcare program. It's the basis of Africa's pharmaceutical industry," said Mr Ogot.

"There are indeed so many benefits and I think it's just about the time we become more liberal to look at how is it we can survive. We are only poor because we believe certain things are immoral," said Senator Olekina.

For a drug that has been banned for almost a century, marijuana history spans more than 12,000 years and in modern times, the plant is used for medical purposes treating conditions such as chronic pain, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, reducing cancer pain and that of multiple sclerosis.

"We need to understand what benefits medical marijuana has," said Senator Olekina.

Commercially, Hemp (a variety of cannabis) is used in making paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, insulation, clothing, paint, food, biofuel and animal feed.

According to Visual capitalist, cannabis (marijuana) is the most lucrative cash crop globally with a value of Sh5.1 billion in 247 acres of land. The most lucrative legal crop in terms of value per hectare is tomatoes and they only yield Sh152 million, 34 times lower than cannabis.

"If indeed this country can legalise hemp, we could help reduce our debt," said the Narok senator.

Marijuana has been illegal in Kenya from pre-independence time. Gwada points out that Kenyans and Africans did not choose the path but was put in place by the white man and shapes perception to date.

"Everything that we are talking about based on marijuana was delivered to us from the West and through United Nations conventions. There is no single Kenyan community that has gone to any authority and said ban marijuana. It is upon us to start making decisions independently rather than relying on the west to direct how we even use the drug that grows in our back yard," said Gwada.

Even though a rising but gentle wind is on the rise blowing for the revision of laws around marijuana, Kenyan legislators are yet to debate on the subject, which is seen as a 'Socially condemned'.

Senator Olekina, a champion of legalising marijuana, faults the government’s “hypocrisy” for the failure to appreciate the substantial benefits that the crop can bring to the country. 

When asked why leaders have remained silent on the discussion, Olekina said: "For now, they cannot do that because we politician are hypocrites, we want to tell the church that we are saints. You know the church controls this country. If you go against the church, you will not get votes. So, we cannot be able to come out openly."

Gwada Ogot: Kenyans have sufficient knowledge and capability to decide how they can grow and regulate marijuana. [Spice FM/Bryan Amulyoto]

In 2017, Gwada presented a petition before Senate's Health Committee calling for the decriminalisation and legalisation of marijuana in the country. To date, Gwada's petition hasn't moved in the house although it has set off a nation-wide conversation.

In the session, Gwada provoked the senators by wondering "God has made more than 430,000 plants and put them on earth then somebody has come and barred just one. You ask yourself why?"

Among the many questions surrounding marijuana are the scientifically unsubstantiated health and social risks such as insanity, addiction and violence. Senator Olekina argues that legalising marijuana will come with its own set of regulations just like alcohol and cigarettes.

"I hear there is a lot of people saying this; there is addiction. There is alcohol addiction, there is an addiction to smoking, nicotine addiction. It's really what you do with it and how you control it. Too much of anything is poisonous… even a painkiller, if you are addicted to a painkiller it will harm your body… we should not be stuck in the old thinking," said the Senator.

But the senator believes there is hope. He trusts that the first step will be a complete education of the public and the leadership on the benefits that the taboo crop can bring to the country.

"We need to able to ensure we educate the legislators on the importance of this subject. Once they are educated, let's get the buy-in. it is like dealing with the issue of politics, you have to get the political goodwill."

Gwada argues that as a nation, Kenyans have sufficient knowledge and capability to decide how they can grow and regulate marijuana instead of following laws made by colonisers. Having that the crop is lucrative globally.

 Gwada anticipates that it will be the economic game-changer for Kenya opening up new sectors, creating thousands of jobs and even affected migration behaviours.

"All the rules and regulations regarding marijuana, none of them has a local origin. Not Kenyan, not African, they are all from Europe. It is in their interest that marijuana is banned across the world so that they exploit maximum profit from it."

"Marijuana will impact every single industry and every single sector in this country and most importantly marijuana can bring us more income than coffee, cotton, pyrethrum put together. Instead of causing a rural to urban migration, the legalisation of marijuana will instead have an urban to rural migration that will decongest and ease life in the cities but at the same time uplift the levels of rural lives because there will be sustainable income through marijuana at the local level."

Even though little discussion surrounding the legalisation of marijuana is taking place in Parliament, Rwanda is on route with plans to start exporting it.

In mid-October 2020, the Rwandan parliament t passed a bill allowing the cultivation of marijuana for medical and commercial purposes. 

Rwanda will be joining the list of the few trailblazing African countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa that have taken up farming of the "taboo" but lucrative crop.