Marijuana has certainly come under the spotlight in recent months for all the wrong reasons. Various celebrities like Rhea Chakraborty, Deepika Padukone and recently even Bharti Singh have been pulled up and questioned by the NCB for their alleged marijuana consumption. With Rhea’s arrest for financing and harbouring a person who was consuming marijuana, weed smokers in India started panicking. ‘what would happen if cops caught me smoking weed?’ or ‘can the mere act of being in possession of a small quantity of marijuana warrant for an arrest?’ These would have been just some of the questions that you would have wondered about if you're a regular stoner. So this is what you need to know about who sets the laws about marijuana in India and what are the punishments if you are found to be in possession of weed -
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 is still high. Baba’s and sadhu’s 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!
After reading this you might be wondering, so what exactly is the punishment if one is caught smoking weed? Well there are several laws that outline exactly what would happen to you.
What will happen if you are caught with weed?
If you are fond of going for late-night drives with your friends to smoke a j, it is best to limit your sessions to your house to prevent cops from catching you smoking weed. Under section 20 of the NDPS Act, these are the punishments that you could possibly face if you charged with offences regarding the ‘consumption, cultivation, possession, use, sale/purchase, import/export, transportation and warehousing of cannabis, except for medical or scientific purposes’
- If the cops catch you with a ‘small quantity’ of 100gms of Charas/hashish or 1kg of ganja, you could be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail with a fine of up to Rs 10,000.
- If you are caught with ‘commercial quantities’ of 1 kg for charas/hashish or 20 kgs of ganja, you could be sentenced up to 20 years in jail with a fine of up to 2 lakhs!
- If you're in the possession of ‘quantities more than a small quantity but less than commercial quantities’ you could face imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh.
- At their discretion, the court could also penalise a repeat offender with over 30 years of jail term.
- If you haven't even consumed marijuana or been in possession of it but let someone come over to your place to smoke some, you could still be in trouble. Section 25 states that if a person knowingly allows one’s premises to be used for committing any offences under the NDPS Act, they could face similar punishment as section 20.
- Section 28 deals with attempts, abetment and criminal conspiracy with regard to marijuana.
These laws have often been criticised as ‘strictest schedules with the harshest of punishments’. However, these laws could be on their way to change.
There could be hope for the easing up of laws centred around cannabis
In the recent UN convention, India was one of the 26 countries who voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs where it was listed along with much harsher drugs like opium and heroin! Removal of cannabis from this category will encourage countries to use medical cannabis as opposed to just use it for industrial purposes. In fact, The Print says that sources in the Indian Government support the use of cannabis (hemp) for medicinal purposes (only).
The Supreme Court will also make an amendment to its laws to make provisions for medical marijuana to be regulated. Puneet Jain, a Supreme Court Advocate tells The Print “If the government wants to regulate the use of cannabis for medical purposes, then an amendment will have to be brought in in the Drug and Cosmetics Act. Just like some drugs are available over the counter, some are allowed with a prescription. It remains to be seen, how the government will plan to regulate the use of cannabis.”
While the government is willing to keep up with the times and pave the way for medical marijuana to become a reality in India, it still has a long way to go. Till then, the strict laws are still in place and it is best not to be caught with any sort of contraband by the police because let's face it, no joint is worth a year in prison.