• Khush Jaju

Cannabis & Its Changing Legalities in India

Khush Jaju

On the second of December, 2020, after reviewing a series of documents presented by the World Health Organization on cannabis and its derivatives, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs decided to remove the word “cannabis” from schedule four of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

This schedule says that these narcotics have ill effects and such liability is not due to substantial therapeutic advantage. This will result in deeper and additional scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties.

So, what exactly is cannabis?

The term "cannabis" term is given to a group of three plants with psychoactive properties, namely Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

When the flowers of these plants are harvested and dried, you’re left with one of the most common drugs in the world. Some call it weed, some call it pot, and others call it marijuana. The mixture is a grayish greenish substance that is consumed by people either in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints; in pipes, water pipes, or bongs, even in blunts (which is nothing but weed rolled in cigar wraps).

Some people even consume weed or cannabis mixed with food. These are often called "edibles". The most common form of food that is mixed with weed is brownies, cookies, or candies.

As weed becomes legal in more areas, names for it are evolving. Today, more and more people are using the term cannabis to refer

to weed. Some argue that it’s a more accurate name. Others feel it’s more neutral compared to terms like weed or pot which is associated with its illegal use. The term "marijuana" is falling out of use due to its racist history.

Cannabis was on the Commission of Narcotic Drugs' prohibited list for nearly 60 years, warranting strict control on its production, supply, consumption, and even use for medical purposes. The United Nations said that the recent 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”.

It was the recreational aspect of cannabis and its derivatives that came under investigation of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), which earlier charged Rhea Chakraborty, her brother Showik and several others in a case of illegal use of narcotics.

Until 1986, all cannabis products were sold legally in India. The United States of America considered the plant as a hard drug and started a worldwide campaign to adopt the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961. After more than 25 years of pressure from the United States Government, India gave in to the demands and enacted the Narcotic Drugs and Psychoactive Substances Act in 1986.

However, different states in India now have different laws for the consumption of this plant. For instance, Uttarakhand became the first state to legalise the consumption of cannabis for commercial cultivation. Whereas in Odisha, the use of this plant is legalised. In Maharashtra, Section 66(1)(b) of the Bombay Prohibition (B.P.) Act, 1949 forbids the manufacture, possession, and consumption of non-licensed bhang and bhang-containing substances. On February 21, 2017, Gujarat legalised bhang by removing it from the list of “intoxicating drugs” covered under Section 23 of the Gujarat Prohibition Act.

This shows that the administration and the government are aware of the benefits and the recreational uses of the cannabis plant. Many politicians like Shashi Tharoor and Maneka Gandhi have also shown their support for the legalisation of cannabis for recreational and medical use.

Tharoor said, “High time for India to embrace the health, business and broader societal benefits that legally regulating cannabis can bring”.

India is predicted to have a broad market for the cannabis plant and with reports predicting the Global Cannabis Market to reach $146.6 billion by the end of 2025.

India needs to take the opportunity to boost the economy in such problematic times. In Himachal Pradesh, nearly 100,000 kgs of cannabis are produced, out of which merely 500 kgs are seized annually.

According to the UNODC’s World Drug Report, the retail price of cannabis in India was US$0.10 per gram, the lowest of any country in the world (400 times cheaper than Japan). Legalising and taxing such items will not only boost

the economy but create another substitute product for consumption.

Recently a study shown by the 2018 Cannabis Price Index revealed that Delhi is 3rd on the table for leading consumers of cannabis in the world. Whereas Mumbai is 6th on this chart, which shows that even though there are laws in place that prevent the consumption, people are still consuming it.

However, a country like The Netherlands that has already legalised cannabis has been placed in the 56th position.

Portugal in the 90s was suffering from a severe drug addiction problem. However, in 2001 it took a bold decision. Even though drugs remained illegal, a small amount would not lead to an arrest. There was a substantial increase in the number of rehabilitation centers as the Portuguese government spent less time and capital to fight the drugs and their distribution, but more on the healthcare of its citizens. In 2020 only a tiny fraction of the original numbers were drug addicts.

These numbers prove a very controversial yet true point that the legalisation of such drugs will lead to a reduction in the addiction to such drugs.

The legalisation of the cannabis plant in India will reduce the potential harm of the drug’s use, put a dent in corruption and crime, and provide our country with the economic boost it needs. Our distressed Indian farmers can grow this cash crop since it takes a minimum amount of time and water to grow. The legalisation of cannabis for commercial and medical purposes in Colorado has created more than 10,000 new jobs in the region. The cannabis industry can and will create a plethora of employment for the people and will help in aiding the problem of unemployment in India.

The United States of America led a global campaign in 1961 to criminalise cannabis and not less than fifty years later, legalised it in the majority of its states.

India is in a state of economic limbo. The Coronavirus is the biggest emergency since Independence, and the World Bank and credit rating agencies have downgraded India’s 2021 fiscal year growth with the lowest figures seen since the 1990s liberalization. It is time for India to rise and decriminalise the medical and recreational use of cannabis.

The laws on cannabis in India are obsolete and necessitate long-awaited reconsideration. The increasing number of start-up cannabis and hemp companies and the rising mainstream support for the legalisation of cannabis is promising, although it is still far from achievable. Given the medical and economic reasons for cannabis legalisation, it is high time the Government reconsiders its decisions.

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