Speaker returns Narcotics Bill to Committee for processing

The Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, has returned the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill, 2023 to the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs for joint processing with the Committee on Health.

In the plenary sitting of Wednesday, July 19 2023, Speaker Among cited substantial amendments of the Bill by the committee that altered its original principles as the reason for its return.

“When we referred the Bill to the committee, the committee made amendments to virtually all clauses; when you look at Rule 61(4) an amendment shall not be permitted if in the opinion of the Speaker, it substantially alters the principles of the question proposed,” she said.

She added: “This amendment has an effect on the principles of this Bill; I am referring back this Bill back to the committee and should be harmonised with the Attorney General and report back to this House; this is not the Bill we had in the House, bring back the Bill we had in the House.”

The 2023 Bill was introduced by government following annulment by the Constitutional Court of a similarly worded Act in the case of Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association versus Attorney General for want of quorum when it was enacted.

In the committee, government, through the Minister of Internal Affairs, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Kahinda Otafiire, had strongly vouched for the legalisation of cannabis for medical use and khat.

MP Geoffrey Ekanya (FDC, Tororo North County) blamed the Office of the Attorney General and ministry officials for not being at hand to render technical advice to the Committees of Parliament.

“Under our rules, the management of Bills in committees must be complete; we Members of Parliament and your technical staff face the problem of lack of technical people from the ministries to guide the process and lack of participation from Office of the First Parliamentary Counsel,” he said.

The Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Gen. David Muhoozi, agreed with the Speaker on the content of the Bill being fundamentally different from the one presented to Parliament.

“By the minister appeared before the committee and I think the point was more about, like you guided, that the committee substantially changed the content of the Bill as was presented at the First Reading; that is why in your wisdom we think we need to harmonise and come back before the second reading,” he said.

Going forward, said Ho. Nicholas Kamara (FDC, Kabale Municipality), the Committee on Health should be coopted to jointly reconsider the Bill before the Second Reading.

“I was surprised to see that the committee did not talk to us about these drugs; actually there are many drugs including morphine…which are prescribed by doctors and we want to be involved in the processing of this Bill,” he said.