Marijuana has always been a taboo topic in India and its consumption has been vilified by Indian media in the past few months, especially with cases like Rhea Chakraborthy’s. While consuming marijuana for even recreational purposes has been legalised in countries like Canada and Belgium, India is known to be particularly intolerant towards the herb even though Delhi and Mumbai are known to be among the world’s biggest consumers of weed!
Although many countries have now moved onto legalising marijuana for medicinal purposes, it is highly unlikely that India would follow in similar footsteps. While the UN recently did make a game-changing move towards the legalisation of weed, India’s move is yet to be anticipated. To understand the UN’s decision, a look into India’s relationship with the herb must be understood-
Firstly, who defines India’s cannabis laws and what are they?
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is responsible for any cannabis-related arrest in India. Up until 1985, the procurement and consumption of ganja were legal in India and this was a common trend especially in religious festivals with baba’s smoking hash and weed openly. However, when the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Bill was passed in 1986, it made the procurement, sale, and consumption of all drugs completely illegal.
Thus, the centre’s NDPS act is responsible for criminalising cannabis’s sale, possession, transportation, and cultivation in certain forms in India. This is the definition of ‘cannabis’ under the NDPS act-
- Charas, which is “the separated resin, in whatever form, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant and also includes concentrated preparation and resin known as hashish oil or liquid hashish”
- Ganja, “the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops)”
- Notably “any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of cannabis or any drink, prepared therefrom.”
Although these parts of the plant are illegal, the cultivation of cannabis for industrial and horticulture purposes is legal. There is also an exception in place for the ‘production, manufacture, possession for medical or scientific purposes or with the government's permission’. While the act prohibits the cultivation and sale of cannabis flower and resin, the use of seeds and leaves is allowed by the government.
While these are the laws, the sale and consumption of weed in India are still high. Baba’s and sadhus are often seen hitting the chillum or pipe in the name of ‘religious practices’ Even bhaang is openly sold in certain states like Jaisalmer, Pushkar, Varanasi, Mathura, Hampi, Noida and Gujarat in legal government authorised shops
What is the UN’s view on marijuana?
Previously marijuana was considered a schedule IV drug which put it in the same category as heroin. It doesn't take a ‘stoner’ to realise that the leaf was nothing like an opiate and many countries decided to vote for the legalisation of marijuana.
India was among the 27 countries that voted for the removal of cannabis and cannabis resin from the list of prohibited substances. This decision flowed from a series of recommendations made by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on marijuana and its derivatives.
“The CND zeroed-in on the decision to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs— where it was listed alongside deadly, addictive opioids, including heroin,” the UN said in a statement. UN also said that the decision has “opened the door to recognise the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly-used but still largely illegal recreational drug”.
An important emphasis of the UN was that the reclassification of cannabis could “act as a catalyst for countries to legalize the drug for medicinal use, and reconsider laws on its recreational use”.
Does India want to legalise weed?
Over the last couple of years, several Indian states and public leaders have reacted positively and provided their assent when it comes to the debate regarding legalising weed in the country. Since the commercial cultivation of marijuana can be significantly profitable for the states, they have been pushing the government towards legalising the herb.
In 2018, Uttrakhand became the first state in the country to allow commercial cultivation of the hemp crop. The state government even, granted a licence to the Indian Industrial Hemp Association (IIHA), to grow the fibre over 1,000 hectares, on a pilot basis.
Following the ruling, the year also saw the Madhya Pradesh government follow suit. Madhya Pradesh’s Law Minister P.C. Sharma reported to the press that the state government has decided to legalise the cultivation of cannabis in the state for medical and industrial purpose. However, since that announcement, progress on the issue has stalled, with no further development taking place.
Another positive news arose out of Manipur last year, the state which is reported to have some of the highest quality weed in the country. N Biren Singh, Manipur’s Chief Minister in a press conference revealed that the government was seriously considering legalising medical marijuana to help boost the state’s revenue. He even suggested that start-ups could be involved in the legalization process, provided they showed a high potential to be part of this industry.
With the acceptance of the medicinal properties of cannabis growing amongst Indian lawmakers, the growing state support is only a positive sign for the movement. Let’s hope the discussion gathers steam in 2020 and comes to the forefront, which could lead to further positive developments when it comes to weed legalization in India.
In fact, even Goa is pushing for marijuana to become legal
According to sources familiar with the development, the Goa government is considering legislation that will make the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes a legitimate activity, people familiar with the development have said.
Goa’s Law Minister Nilesh Cabr commented that the legalisation of marijuana will be pushed solely for medicinal purposes so that it could be sold to the pharmaceutical companies. “It is on the same ground as how liquor is regulated. If you recall before 1985 there was no ban on this. The NDPS Act was brought by the central government and charas, ganja were added in the scheduled list of banned drugs. Today in several states in India the form of this plant known as bhang is sold over the counter through a licenced establishment like a bar licence” he said
So while proper legalisation for the consumption of marijuana, whether it is for recreational or medicinal purposes, is still a long way to go, people are still consuming it. Even the UN’s decision to reclassify cannabis, however, would not immediately change the way it is being regulated by countries across the world. Still, it is expected that the UNCND decision would lead to an international protocol to legalise cannabis. Hopefully, India would follow in its footsteps soon too.