The Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Jai Ram Thakur, announced that the state government is initiating a policy to allow controlled cultivation of hemp or cannabis in the state. This implies that the state intends to legalize the commercial cultivation of the plant to be used for non-recreational purposes such as making medicines and fabrics.
“Cannabis extract is used in manufacturing medicines for the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer’s. It will generate employment opportunities”, says Kullu legislator Sunder Singh Thakur, who had been supporting the cause of cannabis cultivation to be legalized.
How will Cannabis cultivation generate employment?
As a consequence of the pandemic, COVID-19 impacted the primary mining sector, slowed down manufacturing and transportation, and affected tourism in the tertiary sector. Tourism which contributes 7% to the state gross domestic product (GDP), is the main source of living but has crashed massively with tourist inflow down 76% last year as compared to a decade ago. Thus, this decision to allow controlled cultivation of cannabis comes as a way to recover from the unemployment crisis and limited resources of income.
Pradeep Chauhan, a retired economic adviser to the state government mentions, “The state is facing a financial crisis. The controlled cultivation of cannabis will boost the economy as the government aims to earn ₹18,000 crores.” The initiative will provide employment to nearly 50,000 youngsters and directly benefit 2.8 lakh families in the low-income group, he says.
In the current scenario, the state government is undergoing higher debts than its annual budget and relies on the centre for funds. Thus, with the advent of a hemp industry, the government looks at generating employment and becoming economically self-reliant.
Origins of Hemp in India
Initially, hemp was cultivated in parts of old Himachal including Shimla, Mandi, Kullu, Chamba and Sirmaur., where its fibre was used to make baskets, ropes and slippers and its seeds were utilised for traditional cooking. Later, in the 1980s foreign visitors or hippies coached the villagers in Kullu to remove the intoxicant resin or charas from the hemp plant.
“During snowfall, we used to prepare a dish from cannabis seeds which helped keep us warm and energetic,” said Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur in the Assembly during a discussion. He added that the quality of cannabis that grows in the state is the finest in the world and its seeds can be used to make paint, ink, and biofuel.
The legality of cannabis cultivation in India
In 1985, the cultivation of the cannabis plant was prohibited under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. But for industrial or horticultural purposes. this Act permits state governments to facilitate regulated cultivation of hemp for procuring its fiber and seed. Thus, in 2018, Uttarakhand was the first state to carry this procedure out and only allowed the cultivation of cannabis plants that had a low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Further Uttar Pradesh has been adopting a similar policy, while it has been reported that Madhya Pradesh and Manipur are dwelling on this idea as well.
The psychoactive intoxicants from the cannabis plant mainly comprise charas and ganja. Charas or hashish is the separated resin of the plant and can be concentrated to obtain hashish oil. In Himachal Pradesh specifically, charas and the cannabis plant are referred to as Bhang, and in several other places, Bhang is associated with the intoxicating drink prepared from the plant. Ganja (or marijuana, or weed, or pot or dope) is essentially the dried flowers and leaves of the plant. Both of these commodities, i.e. Charas and Ganja can be smoked or used as an ingredient in drinks or food. However, regardless of Hemp cultivation, The NDPS act prohibits legality to any kind of Charas or Ganja across the country.