By Andrew Visper
Asection of Kitechura Central Forest Reserve has been cleared by residents to grow marijuana.
The marijuana gardens are estimated to cover twenty hectares of land. The forest reserve located in Kyegegwa District measures approximately 5,330 hectares also is surrounded by Kibaale and Kyenjojo districts.
Marijuana is being grown in several parts of the forest for commercial purposes by residents of Kigambo Sub County and Magoma Town Council in Kyegegwa District and those from Bufunjo Sub County in Kyenjojo district.
A source who preferred anonymity implicated the NFA staff for conniving with the marijuana growers.
The source, who is a resident of Kigambo Sub County, notes that growing of cannabis is now more profitable than any other business in the area.
Frank Baguma, a crime preventer in the area, says that he has been battling the marijuana growers, in vain.
The Kigambo LC III chairman, Samson Kwetonda, says that he cannot do much because NFA rarely involves the Sub County leadership in their operations. He also says that when some of the growers are arrested, they are released by the police.
The Rwenzori West Regional Police Spokesperson, Lydia Tumushabe, says that police have never arrested and released any person dealing in marijuana. She adds that police are committed to arresting and prosecuting all the dealers.
The Kyenjojo LCV Chairperson, William Kaija, says they have reported the matter to NFA and are waiting for action.
The National Forest Authority spokesperson Alisha Aisha, says that the authority has staff of integrity that cannot condone illegal activities. However, she says they will definitely hand over the implicated officers to police for prosecution should they find sufficient evidence implicating them.
She also says that NFA has a number of challenges including under staffing, lack of vehicles and lack of an enforcement team to monitor illegal activities inside the forest reserves.
According to the narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances act (2015) section 4, Any person found in possession of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances commits an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine not less than five hundred currency points or three time the market value of the drug whichever is greater or to an imprisonment not less than ten years but not exceeding twenty five years or both such fine and imprisonment among other penalties accordingly.