Should Marijuana Be Legalized in India?

Introduction:

Marijuana, a drug of considerable conflict in India, is also known to be highly circulated within the country, despite the laws in the country has declared its dealing, usage, trading and consumption as illegal. A herb, or a drug, whatever one may prefer to refer to it as (there are audiences divided over this throughout the world – but it really is only a matter of perspective), has various other names as well, and these names are all well known around the world – be it weed, pot, ganja, and a massive number of other slangs, and even Mary Jane (if you prefer the classic touch for the name). It looks more like a herb and is basically a greenish-grey mixture of dried flowers. These dried flowers are of the plant Cannabis Sativa.[1]

Several legislations throughout the world had been drafted such so as to make the consumption, trade, and sale and purchase of marijuana in their respective jurisdictions as illegal. However, the scenario has changed in these countries, and an increasingly aware society is now beginning to rebel against the established norms and is striving their best to make the use of marijuana in their countries legal. Well, who wouldn’t? There are several countries where exists simultaneously law that allows the consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes. Several examples exist. And what’s worth pondering right now is not where marijuana is legal or is how the battle around the world for the legalization of marijuana is faring. Rather, the debate worthy aspect of this conflict is where does India stand in amidst these conflicting opinions over the legalization of Marijuana?

This legal essay is meant to address this issue for the Indian scenario. The essay shall be divided threefold – beginning from the history of the concerned substance, let us call it, due to lack of any other unbiased term for the same, proceeding to the current situation of marijuana in India, legal and behind the scenes, and ending the essay with the relevant conclusions for the debate.

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History Of Marijuana in India:

The source of the substance that is popularly known as marijuana is the plant Cannabis Sativa, and Cannabis itself is also known as Marijuana, among several other names. Cannabis Sativa has been put to various uses by the people who wish to, and the most popular use among the people is by consuming the dried flowers and the subtending leaves of the plant, and the stems of the female Cannabis plant.[2] Although the present laws in India have declared the possession, consumption and sale and purchasing of marijuana as a punishable offence, it was not always so.

The cannabis plant has been being used in India since ages, and its usage can be dated back to them as old as 2000 BCE. The Ancient Vedas in India enumerate and mention the use of various parts of the plant for several purposes, and what is notable that not all of them are medicinal. Bhang, which is still very popular among the general populace, can be found mentioned in several Indian texts that date back to almost 1000 BCE. Unsurprisingly, this fact is also debated among the scholars for the same, which is quite similar to everything that is said or stated in this debate. Atharvaveda (c. 1500 – 1000 BCE), as has been interpreted by some scholars has been found to mention bhang as one of the five sacred plants that are known to cure anxiety.[3]

Cannabis Sativa is also known by several scholars as the plant to have been used to prepare soma, an intoxicating drink, highly praised in the Rigveda, (c. 1700 – 1100 BCE) in the Vedic Period.[4]

However, post the ancient period, the colonial era dawned in India, and several changes were observed, for the Europeans deeply delved into the uses of Marijuana, and researched extensively over its effects. The Portuguese Medical Practitioners came to know about the Indian trade of Marijuana, and when examined it, they accepted the common usage in India of various parts of the plant, in particular, the Portuguese botanist and doctor, Garcia da Orta.[5] Even the British Colonists, in their research, were unable to find any particular harmful long-term effect, when the parts of the plant were consumed in moderate amounts.[6]

The Indian subcontinent has a wide history of usage of Cannabis, yet the same was over the time found to be illegal to be consumed. Why?

The answer is pretty simple. A Political agenda, with an economic motive.

In the 1930s, USA referred to hemp as a ‘billion dollar plant”, merely because the number of uses it was being put to use for. There were simply many. Especially, because it was equally opposite in price – it was inexpensive. The plant was in a similar situation in almost every country around the world. It was only plausible that the growing hemp industry would pose a great danger to the liquor, tobacco and timber industries, which were lagging behind now since hemp had taken the lead.

India had long battled the pressure that the USA had been exerting on it, to make marijuana in India illegal. This was 1961. Ever since the beginning of 1961, the USA had been widely campaigning for a global law to illegalize all drugs, be it hard and soft. India resisted this pressure only for so long since India had had a long history of the consumption of the parts of the plant, and thus, the higher-ups were opposed to such a major step. But, eventually, the resistance crumpled against the incessant USA pressure, and in 1985, finally to the satisfaction of the United States of America, the Government under the leadership of Rajeev Gandhi, illegalized the consumption of Marijuana by enacting an act, the “Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act” (the NDPS Act), a much debated act in the modern era, since the people at large claim of the benefits of the plant consumption, since the science too, backs up their claims to a considerable extent.

There is a considerable debate going on amongst the several segments of the country as to the prolonged ban on the consumption of the plant in India, where both sides argue vehemently for their stands. Where at one hand the side which favours the ban quotes the medicinal side effects of the plant, which have been said to be severe and dangerous to the mental condition, the opposing segment quotes the potential benefits and stresses on limited consumption and not an affinity for the same. In short, as no further developments have been made on either side that would signify any progress in their respective arguments, the debate seems to have arrived at an impasse.

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Current Legal Situation:

The current Indian Legal Regime on the consumption of Marijuana is the NDPS Act[7]. The Definition Clause[8] of the Act defined Marijuana as follows:

2(iii). “cannabis (hemp)” means-

  1. charas, that 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;
  2. ganja, that is, the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops), by whatever name they may be known or designated; and
  3. any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of cannabis or any drink, prepared therefrom;

The Production i.e. growing of Cannabis is illegal under the Act[9], yet the harvesting the leaves of the cannabis plant that have grown in the wild, has not been found to be covered in the act. The 1961 Treaty was the first ever attempt to make Marijuana illegal in the world.[10] It was the first ever international Treaty that had put together Cannabis (or Marijuana) with hard drugs, meanwhile simultaneously imposing a blanket ban on its production, except for medicinal and research purposes. This treaty was severely opposed to by India and other cannabis and opium manufacturing countries but was overwhelmed before the pressure that the USA was exerting. The loopholes that were found earlier in the Treaty of 1961[11], were once again replicated in the NDPS Act, and the leaves and seeds of the cannabis plant were left out from the definition of the plant cannabis for the purpose of the NDPS Act, and the same was affirmed by the Judiciary as well.[12] In addition to the definition, there are also several punishments prescribed under the NDPS Act[13], which are a fine of Rs. 10,000 or imprisonment of 6 months.

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Conclusion

While the USA exerted pressure on all the countries around the world in 1961 to impose a blanket ban on all the drugs around the world being produced, be it hard or soft, and forced India to ban the Marijuana production in the country, it was not before long when the USA turned coat. 2 States in the United States, Washington and Colorado, passed a referendum and approved the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.[14] Ironical, eh? This adoption of the referendum by two states of the Country that pressurized the world to ban the drug itself, it may or may not be worth the debate, but it sure is a laugh in the face of India.

Banning the production of the hemp plant, and associated products have not had any benefit whatsoever for India. The hemp industry in the USA is wide-ranging, and amounts to $44 Billion, by 2020, as estimated this year.[15] Nowhere in India’s statistics is such a number envisioned. Forbes estimated the Hemp industry in the USA to provide more jobs than their any of the manufacturing industries.[16]

On the contrary, banning the growth, and consumption of the plant in India has only caused negative effects on the youth, and other segments of the society as well. In the year 2000, in India, substance abuse, in particular of Cannabis, has been graded at about 3.2 per cent.[17] India has the least priced cannabis available in the world, at about $0.10.[18] India, over the years since it has been banned for consumption, unless for medicinal purposes, has, on the contrary, seen a tremendous rise in the youth who consume the plant extensively.[19]

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, seems wise in this context. Canada was one of the few countries, who have in recent years, completely legalized the use of marijuana in their countries. Mr Trudeau, when asked why for such a step, said that the ages-old laws illegalizing cannabis in the country have so far been ineffective and that criminals have been making easy money off the kids in the country who have been trying to consume the plant. Thus to monitor those transactions, and to channelize the energy efficiency, the step has been a bold one, although not one that has met with universal praise.[20]

But indeed, the path on which the Prime Minister has been thinking is indeed praiseworthy. Notable is the fact that Canada has not legalized it entirely, while still, possessing more than 30 grams of the plant is punishable. The stress is on controlled consumption, and not out of control addiction.

Several benefits are to be found off consuming the plant and its other products, when done so in a controlled and moderate amount. The states where Marijuana has been legalized have been noted to be consuming less amounts of painkillers, and also tend to have a significantly higher score in the happiness index. Besides, consumption of marijuana has also signified a considerable decrement in the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, by as much as 15 per cent.[21] Also, marijuana is scientifically proven to be 114 times less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.[22]

The experts in the science of this plant have not denied, nor accepted its benefits.[23] As mentioned, the debate is at an impasse. However, the trends strongly suggest that there is more to be gained by legalizing it, rather than it remained illegal. Several countries have already taken the initiative. Besides, the illegal trade is flourishing nonetheless, and it is not as if the government and the law authorities are not aware of the same. Rather than blindsiding the same, it is appropriate that apt steps be undertaken, and the consumption should be legalized, so that the industry may flourish and develop in a manner beneficial for the country’s economy as well.

 

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[1] What is Marijuana? June 2018. Publications. National Institute of Drug Abuse. (https://d14rmgtrwzf5a.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/1380-marijuana.pdf).

[2] Potter, Gary; Bouchard, Martin; Decorte, Tom. (2013). World Wide Weed: Global Trends in Cannabis Cultivation and its Control (revised ed.). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 17.

[3] Conard, Chris. (1997). Hemp for Health. Inner Traditions. pp. 43–44.

[4] Bennett, Chris. (2010). “Cannabis and the Soma Solution”. Trine Day.

[5] C. Chasteen, John. (2016). Getting High: Marijuana through the Ages. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 104

[6] Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, 1894-1895.

[7] Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

[8] Id., Section 2.

[9] Id., Section 2(vii)(a).

[10] The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.

[11] Id.

[12] Arjun Singh v.  State of Haryana, Civil Writ Petition, No. 844 of 2014.

[13] Chapter X, NDPS Act, 1985.

[14] Mitta, Manoj, (2012), Recreational Use of Marijuana: Of Highs and Laws, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Recreational-use-of-marijuana-Of-highs-and-laws/articleshow/17165524.cms.

[15] Schepp, David, (2016) Legal Marijuana: A $44 Billion Business by 2020? (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/legal-marijuana-a-44-billion-business-by-2020/).

[16] Borchardt, Debra, (2017). Marijuana Industry Projected to Created More Jobs Than Manufacturing by 2020. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/debraborchardt/2017/02/22/marijuana-industry-projected-to-create-more-jobs-than-manufacturing-by-2020/#1e768e893fa9)

[17] Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (2008). DIANE Publishing. May 2009. pp. 90

[18] Cannabis and Opium Drugs Cheapest in India. (2017). (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/indian-drugs-cheapest-in-the-world/articleshow/59230170.cms).

[19] A. Jajoo, Amar. (2014) Weed Addiction on Alarming Rise. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/Weed-addiction-on-an-alarming-rise/articleshow/34821277.cms).

[20] Canada Legalizes Recreational Cannabis Use. (June, 2018). (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44543286).

[21] Ingraham, Christopher. (2017). Medical Marijuana took a bite out of Alcohol sales. Recreational Pot could take an even bigger one. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/01/medical-marijuana-took-a-bite-out-of-alcohol-sales-recreational-pot-could-take-an-even-bigger-one/?utm_term=.e27502882bab).

[22] Hooton, Christopher. (2015). Weed is 114 times less deadly than alcohol, study finds. (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/weed-is-114-times-less-deadly-than-alcohol-study-finds-10066496.html).

[23] Grinspoon, Peter. (2018) Medical Marijuana. Harvard Health Blog. (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/medical-marijuana-2018011513085).

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