Unpacking The Recent Historic Cannabis Court Decision In Uganda
This month in Uganda has been one for the ages from a cannabis policy standpoint. Earlier in May, Uganda’s Constitutional Court in Kampala rendered a decision that reportedly nullified the nation’s entire Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act. The Court reasoned that the measure was passed “without the required quorum in Parliament.”
That decision set off a wave of celebration both within Uganda and beyond its borders, with many domestic and international cannabis observers touting the decision as the Court having ‘legalized cannabis.’ However, as with many cannabis-based court decisions handed down around the globe, the actual truth of the matter is not nearly as straightforward.
Judiciary Pushes Back On Claims Of Legalization
The Petitioners of the case in question, Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited, argued that there was a ‘lack of quorum by Parliament’ during the initial process of passing the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act. Ultimately, Uganda’s Constitutional Court agreed with that argument, however, the Court adamantly disagreed with the assertion cannabis was legalized in the East African nation.
In a press statement, the Judiciary clarified that its ruling was fairly limited in scope and that it did not intend to legalize cannabis in Uganda via its recent decision. Rather, the Court expressly indicated that its intent was to nullify the process by which ‘provisions of sections 26, 29, 47, 49, and 60 (1) (b) and (c) of the National Drug Policy and Authority Act’ was adopted, but that substances ‘previously restricted under the National Drug Policy and Authority Act remain restricted’ and that ‘Parliament still reserves the power to legislate on the same subject’ if it wants to, which it presumably will.
The decision in Uganda was historic, however, not at the magnitude that many cannabis advocates had hoped, or in some cases, claimed. The fight to end cannabis prohibition in Uganda is, unfortunately, far from over. As such, cannabis advocates inside and outside of Uganda need to keep pursuing their efforts to achieve reform. Medical cannabis production is currently legal in Uganda, as are exports, however, the nation’s industry is still very limited by many measures.
Previous Cannabis Decisions In Other Countries
A cannabis-based court decision being rendered at a nation’s highest level, no pun intended, is not unique to Uganda. In September 2018, South Africa’s Constitutional Court rendered a unanimous ruling in which it deemed private, personal cannabis cultivation and consumption to be constitutional. The case stemmed from three consumers who were facing charges and argued that cannabis prohibition as it pertains to individual freedoms “intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres.” Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said at the time that, it will “not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption.” The decision did not extend to anything beyond private, personal cultivation, possession, and consumption.
Roughly a month after the historic decision was issued in South Africa, a somewhat similar decision was issued in Mexico. In late 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court determined that an outright prohibition of cannabis was unconstitutional. Part of the Court’s ruling involved tasking lawmakers in Mexico with passing a legalization measure by an initial deadline. Unfortunately, the initial deadline and all subsequent extensions have yet to be complied with, as obviously, no legalization measure has reached the finish line in Mexico all of these years later.
A third major decision occurred in Italy in late 2019, where the nation’s Supreme Court also deemed the prohibition of private, personal cannabis cultivation to be unconstitutional. The case stemmed from an individual facing charges for cultivating two plants. The decision in Italy was similar to the previous ones issued in South Africa and Mexico, in that the scope of the decision was somewhat limited, and much was left to lawmakers to figure out. And just as reform efforts have languished in Italy, the same is true in South Africa and Mexico. They are all examples of court cases being both contextually historic and yet ultimately limited in scope in the long run.