Exploring the need to destigmatize the consumption of Cannabis in India.
Rushil Mehta, Writer
Illustration by Rachel Mathew
The Narcotics Bureau of India is making a significant effort to crack down on the Bollywood industry. Bollywood seems to have come into the limelight recently due to the involvement of Rhea Chakraborty who procured a meagre amount of marijuana. This brings about the question - why is the consumption of Marijuana being penalised?
The marijuana plant has been an inherent part of Indian history and culture. It goes by different names - Bhang, charas, ganja, among others. This drug crackdown has never erupted at such a scale around India, where people are asking for a call to wipe it clean out of India. Why is there a stigma attached to the same? The same item that, in its seeds and leaves form is consumed along with other delicacies during Holi. The same item when consumed as its flower and inhaled, is done behind closed doors.
Marijuana, in fact was legal up until 1985, when the Rajiv Gandhi government, enacted the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. This was done to please the United States of America, who was trying to press the association of cannabis with crimes and by extension social stigma. The Indian government was in fact reluctant to classify cannabis as ‘Hard Drug” but it needed the US as an ally to gain access of American technology during the Cold War Era. The United States, 30 years later now has legalised the consumption and sale of cannabis in select states, and now the same industry is scheduled to become a booming business and a $13.6 billion industry as of 2019.
Despite which, the NDPS Act, has a different take on Bhang and it doesn't fall under the definition of cannabis (hemp), hence its possession is not an offense and does not attract any punishment.
The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 classifies Marijuana as a class 1 Drug due to its high abuse potential, no medical use, and severe safety concerns. This is the same category where Heroin, LSD, and cocaine are named, which are in reality ‘Hard Drugs’. Despite which, the NDPS Act, has a different take on Bhang and it doesn't fall under the definition of cannabis (hemp), hence its possession is not an offense and does not attract any punishment.
Cannabis actually has been an important part of Indian culture. Early mentions can be seen in the Vedas, which called it a source of happiness, joy-giver, liberator that was compassionately given to humans to help them attain delight and lose fear. The Hindu god Shiva is also frequently associated with Cannabis, particularly in the bhang form. Hindu mythology depicts an incident in Shivas life. Once Shiva was angry due to a conflict in his family and drained from the hot sun, so he went and slept under some plants. When he woke up he tried this leafy plant out of curiosity and was instantly rejuvenated. Thus, Shiva made this plant his special indulgence .
Marijuana, hence, has now grown to be accepted across the world as a beneficial drug. With several countries making it legal to consume marijuana for recreational purposes, it has now also found its way into the medical field. The use of Marijuana is also being researched into and has been found to have several medical benefits. It treats glaucoma, slows the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, improves metabolism and is even said to spur creative activity in our brain. Out of the two components of Marijuana - one being CBD (which stands for cannabidiol) & THC (which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol), the former is reported to relieve insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions like epilepsy.
According to a study, it was estimated that the Delhi government could alone raise Rs. 725 crore in annual tax revenues by legalising cannabis. And lastly, in an effort to promote employment, the rise of a formal Marijuana Industry will contribute to various sectors such as construction, paper-making, agriculture and farming.
Legalising cannabis can bring substantial economic benefits to the country. India could gain a lot more revenue from taxes, duties on export and also promote jobs in the agriculture segment. By decriminalizing the drug, India could look into exporting cannabis to other countries. According to a study, it was estimated that the Delhi government could alone raise Rs. 725 crore in annual tax revenues by legalising cannabis. And lastly, in an effort to promote employment, the rise of a formal Marijuana Industry will contribute to various sectors such as construction, paper-making, agriculture and farming. Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy also concluded by their research that India’s share in the $4.7 billion global hemp market is 0.0001 per cent.
All said, there is no dispute regarding the overconsumption of any item will be detrimental to public health. And there definitely will be a need to regulate it just like tobacco and alcohol is. But given the situation is such where the underground cannabis industry is flourishing, the government is not only missing out on an opportunity to be able to earn. It is also enforcing a regressive stigma attached with the drug, the perception for which is changing in countries outside India.
In conclusion, with the given state of affairs, it is difficult to say whether a change in the perception of cannabis being bad will take place. Additionally, despite several efforts to mend the laws pertaining to cannabis, the government of India seems to be extremely disinterested to take any efforts or even talk about it. There was even a petition filed by the Great Legalisation Movement India Trust in the Delhi High Court, in November 2019, but nothing has been substantiated. Still, with people having access to the internet and more information, there may be a drive to swap people's opinions.
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