In the past few months, marijuana has been at the center of every conversation on national television and in Indian households. The controversy over Bollywood celebrities, weed, and vilification of stoners by the Indian media brought light to India's relationship with the plant. To sum it up - it's quite confusing. Different parts of the cannabis plant are treated differently in our country. For example, it's acceptable to use bhang (a derivative of the cannabis plant) but smoking marijuana is illegal. Most stoners would agree that this distinction makes no sense at all.
But getting high isn’t the only use of a cannabis plant, it has industrial uses too and since it’s a budding niche, Indian startups do not want to miss out on it. That's why we're seeing Indian companies introducing hemp (a product of the cannabis plant) in the formal market and creating lifestyle products around it.
Now, there's a common misconception that hemp and weed are two different plants. But they are simply two distinct parts of the same plant in the Cannabaceae family. It’s just the Indian law that differentiates between them. Legally, the main difference between hemp and recreational marijuana is the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content (cannabinoids or chemicals that are responsible for the psychoactive effects of weed)
Hemp cultivation is legal in India for making various products such as cloth, cosmetics, rope, printer's ink, wood preservative, detergents, soaps, and lighting oil. However, the flowering part of the marijuana plant that we leisurely smoke is banned in India under the NDPS Act.
Despite the stigma attached to marijuana, the raw material is mostly imported from China, Europe, or Uttarakhand (the only State in India to have legalized hemp cultivation for industrial purposes). Hemp can be used to produce textiles, shoes, paper, rope, food, and even bioplastics. Hemp products are considered to be very sustainable and organic. For example, hemp seed oil is praised for the skin-altering benefits it has and hemp clothes are more durable and long-lasting than other artificial fabrics. Here's a list of Indian companies that are jumping on the bandwagon of a growing hemp industry.
1. Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO), Mumbai
Boheco is touted as one of the most promising hemp start-ups as it's backed by high-profile investors such as Google India's Managing Director Rajan Anandan, and Ratan Tata of Tata Sons.
The company was founded by six H.R College graduates - Avnish Pandya, Chirag Tekchandaney, Delzaad Deolaliwala, Jahan Peston Jamas, Sumit Shah, and Yash P Kotak, who wanted to explore the medicinal and lifestyle benefits of cannabis and by making apparel, beauty products, building material, and much more out of the most misunderstood product.
They aim to break prejudices about the crop and assist local farmers in cultivating cannabis which will, in turn, help the farmers rise above bad socio-economic conditions. That's why their campaign is called, "Educate, Cultivate, Elevate".
Boheco's first product in the market was handloom fabric, woven by a women's self-help group based in Uttarakhand. The idea was to give local artisans working with wild hemp an opportunity to sell their products to urban communities. This was a huge win for the founders' goal of changing the perception of cannabis cultivation from "dope" to "hope", as they described it in an interview with Your Story.
For the consumer, BOHECO offers hemp leaf-extract products containing cannabinoids such as CBD and THC under their ayurvedic medicine and wellness range. Research shows that cannabinoids have a therapeutic value for multiple illnesses especially chronic pain.
When they first began, it wasn't easy as people were skeptical of a cannabis business making money in India. However, as investors and businesses observe their success, their company is booming with investment and growing steadily.
2. Hempster, Hyderabad
Hempster, founded by Rohan Gouda, Abhishek Sajjala, and Rajarjun Reddy Gummi, is a haven for luxurious hemp seed oil products, especially for body-care. Every product is made from hemp seed oil from shower gels, soap bars to balm butter, and lotions. Their products are beautifully packaged and are the perfect gift for someone looking for natural, aesthetic, and sustainable skin-care.
In an interview, Gouda says that their hair oils and massage oils have been a particular hit. He adds, "There have been instances where within the first application of the product, the user has seen a 90% benefit." The company sells its products through other e-commerce websites such as Amazon but is gearing up to open a website store soon.
3. GreenJams, Vizag
GreenJams is a highly unconventional venture that strives to create infrastructure with hemp concrete or lime hemp concrete. Its founder, Tarun Jami came up with the idea when he was pursuing his Master's in Environmental Science. During his time at University, he and his brother decided to make hempcrete a reality in the market via Visakhapatnam-based GreenJams Infrastructures. They decided to revolutionize construction by switching to hemp as it's carbon negative and can absorb carbon dioxide emissions.
"We have gotten in touch with several stalwarts from the construction field and they are very excited about our product. Now, we just need to start manufacturing it on a large scale," says Tarun, who along with his brother, featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2019.
Last year, they had collaborated with the Central Building Research Institute but are still working out the details of introducing it into the construction industry. The founders say that it's challenging to create a supply chain for hempcrete as no one uses it. So, it's hard to convince farmers to grow the raw materials for it.
To this, Jami says, "We are thinking of creating an ecosystem, similar to a bank, where farmers can deposit this waste material and we can give them fair prices in exchange. Every other challenge is surmountable."
4. Vedi, Bhubaneshwar
Vedi brings Ayurveda and Hemp together as it considers Hemp a 'jewel in the court of Ayurveda' and considers infusion of cannabis into Ayurveda quite essential. It derives inspiration from the historic use of cannabis in Ayurvedic medicine and lifestyle products. It creates 100% vegan Ayurvedic medicines and has been a force in driving the Hemp business movement forward in India.
5. Satliva, Bangalore
Satliva, founded by Namrata Reddy Sirupa, is a hemp sho based in Bangalore. They offer high-end and chemical-free skin-care and body-care products made from hemp oil and other cold-pressed oils. This rings well with the company's slogan - 'Nature is the best Nurture', as Satliva brings nature and sustainability home.
In an interview with FashGroupe, Namrata Reddy Sirupa, Founder of Satliva said, “We have been extensively doing research on Hemp. It has never been more exciting to know about the benefit of Hemp seed and so Satliva reflects our enthusiasm and focuses on bringing a product that takes care of your skin and hair naturally. Our brand ethos represents purity and Satliva will always remain constant on this.”
6. Hemp Republic, Telangana
Founded by Prashansa Shahani Gupta, Hemp Republic is leading in producing high-quality hemp fabric. Gupta feels that it's easier to convince people to wear something to try it out rather than eating it or applying it to their skin. The two founders Gupta and Kartik Aysola had quit their jobs to start this venture and had researched it for over three years before. Hemp fabric has many variations due to unique compositions, for example, hemp plus cotton or hemp and linen. In addition, wearing hemp fabric is incredibly comfortable.
Similar to most hemp companies, Hemp Republic wants to promote sustainability and a healthy symbiotic relationship between humans and Earth. The company is currently based in Hyderabad and sells hemp fabrics, oils, powders, and paper products as well. They make sure that their products are made in India and have a Fairtrade certificate.
7. HempStreet, Delhi
Cannabis is internationally lauded for its medicinal properties and a Delhi-based startup HempStreet is looking to tap that medical potential. It calls itself "India's first fully integrated research-to-retail venture in the Ayurvedic cannabis sector" as they make cannabis-based medicines for patients suffering from ailments such as arthritis, insomnia, appetite loss, and other chronic pain.
Co-founded by Abhishek Mohan and Aradhna Rai, the company is built on the research and advisory of 60,000 medical practitioners and 300 clinics across India. In the long run, it aims to dispense cannabis-based medicines to patients on a prescription basis.
How the Hemp industry can help the agricultural sector
The global legal marijuana market is expected to reach USD 73.6 billion by 2027, according to a new report published by Grand View Research, Inc. India, too, can reap the economic benefits of the growing cannabis industry, especially in its agricultural sector.
Cannabis production could give farmers a new revenue stream, including export earnings. Bhang, a part of the cannabis plant, is legal in India and hence runs in the market supply. So, we know that there is knowledge on growing the plant since it's been used for religious ceremonies and celebrations across India. Also, these plants grow wild across the entire country, especially in the north.
India has suitable soil and climate for growing cannabis. It also doesn't need any heavy branding to lure international buyers as ganja and bhang are globally associated with Indian culture. This makes sense considering how many people travel to India to go on a hippie trail. Certain states are also popularly known to have high-quality weed such as Kerala and Himachal Pradesh which further gives us an edge in exporting.
According to an analysis by Quartz, legalizing cannabis could lead to millions entering our economy and help farmers generate higher incomes. However, this is just one side of the coin, there are several roadblocks that arise when considering the legalization of recreational marijuana.