Cannabis in India: Legal status

Reading time: 5-6 minutes.

Globally, the consumption of drugs for non-medical use has become a major concern. India is one of the major hubs for illicit drug trade, from age-old cannabis to newer synthetic or non-synthetic substances like tramadol, and designer drugs like methamphetamine. The epidemic of substance abuse has assumed an alarming threat, mainly targeting the young generation.

According to the United Nations World Drug Report 2019, the drug use in India has gone up by 30 percent. In the World Drug Report, submitted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it was found that 35 million people worldwide suffer from drug abuse disorders while only 1 in 7 people receive treatment every year.

                         The blooming market of illegal drugs is becoming a major threat to law enforcement and public health. Instead of using the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances for several medical and scientific purposes, it is being abused and trafficked on a larger scale for recreational purposes.

Even after being aware of this global issue, many countries have legalised the use of cannabis on the basis of its commercial utilities and majorly medicinal properties. Recently, the Chief Minister of Manipur, Nongthom-bam Biren Singh, proposed a plan for the legalisation of cannabis, or marijuana, solely for the medicinal and industrial purposes. As the cannabis produced in the state of Manipur is considered to be the best in the country, the CM concluded that it can help in boosting the state’s economy.

 Also, for the first time, the Indian government has authorised the narcotics department to do scientific research on cannabis in a monitored way, at the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Legal provisions:

  • In Indian context, Article 47 of the Constitution of India deals with India’s approach towards Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS). It mandates that the ‘State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health’.
  • Under Section 2(iii) of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 ,the word “cannabis (hemp)” is defined as:
  • 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;
  • 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
  • any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of cannabis or any drink prepared therefrom;
  • Section 8 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, deals with prohibition of certain operations. It states that no person shall-
  1. cultivate any coca plant or gather any portion of coca plant; or
  2.  cultivate the opium poppy or any cannabis plant; or
  3.  produce, manufacture, possess, sell, purchase, transport, warehouse, use, consume, import inter-State, export inter-State, import into India, export from India or tranship any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, except for medical or scientific purposes and in the manner and to the extent provided by the provisions of this Act or the rules or orders made thereunder and in a case where any such provision, imposes any requirement by way of licence, permit or authorization also in accordance with the terms and conditions of such licence, permit or authorization:

Provided that, and subject to the other provisions of this Act and the rules made thereunder, the prohibition against the cultivation of the cannabis plant for the production of ganja or the production, possession, use, consumption, purchase, sale, transport, warehousing, import inter-State and export inter-State of ganja for any purpose other than medical and scientific purpose shall take effect only from the date which the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf:

[Provided further that nothing in this section shall apply to the export of poppy straw for decorative purposes.]

  • Section 20 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 deals with  punishment for contravention in relation to cannabis plant and cannabis. It states that whoever, in contravention of any provisions of this Act or any rule or order made, or condition of licence granted thereunder,
  • cultivates any cannabis plant; or
  •  produces, manufactures, possesses, sells, purchases, transports, imports inter- State, exports inter-State or uses cannabis, shall be punishable

[(i) where such contravention relates to clause (a) with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees; and

(ii) where such contravention relates to sub-clause (b),

(A) and involves small quantity, with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, which may extend to ten thousand rupees, or with both;

(B) and involves quantity lesser than commercial quantity but greater than small quantity, with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees;

(C) and involves commercial quantity, with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to twenty years and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than one lakh rupees but which may extend to two lakh rupees:

Provided that the court may, for reasons to be recorded in the judgment, impose a fine exceeding two lakh rupees.]

Marijuana in India:

Marijuana falls under the category of Schedule I (Class I) drugs. The Schedule I (Class I) drugs are illegal in nature because they possess high abuse potential, have no medicinal use, are addictive and have severe health hazards. For instance, narcotics such as Heroin, LSD, Mescaline and cocaine are all illegal drugs.

Immunities for drug offences:

People should be aware of the procedural safeguards and immunities under the NDPS Act such as:

  • Any person being searched has a right to be searched before a Gazetted Officer or a Magistrate (Section 50).
  • The person who is arrested should be informed, as soon as may be, the grounds of his arrest (Section 52 (1)).
  • Officers acting in discharge of their duties in good faith under the Act are immune from suits, prosecution and other legal proceedings (Section 69).
  • Addicts charged with consumption of drugs (Section 27) or with offences involving small quantities will be immune from prosecution if they volunteer for de-addiction. This immunity may be withdrawn if the addict does not undergo complete treatment (Section 64A).
  • Central or state governments can tender immunity to an offender in order to obtain his evidence in the case. This immunity is granted by the government and not by the Court (Section 64).
  • Juvenile offenders (below 16 years of age) will be governed by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

In conclusion…

Although cannabis has a plethora of benefits but in Indian context, legalisation of cannabis cannot be considered as a right move as it will wreak havoc on the population. As in India, cannabis is particularly used for recreational purposes so restricting it for medicinal and industrial purposes would be a difficult task.

Further the global trend of purchasing drugs over the internet, particularly on ‘darknet’ trading platforms is raising manifolds. In context of this present illegal trade of drugs, the plan of   Manipur government to legalise cannabis cannot be considered as a positive step.

Also, the cannabis is considered as a gateway drug as it makes a person more susceptible to try harder and more dangerous drugs. Such drug addiction leads to serious health issues like short-term memory loss, cancer and lung diseases etc. With the legalisation of drugs, it will be easier for the young generation to purchase cannabis from the drug dealers in large quantities.  

Apart from this, there is a paucity of scientific footing related to the plant’s use and lack of stringent laws and policies for illegal cultivation of drugs. Even after the implementation of stringent laws and policies, the prevention and treatment of drug addiction continue to fall short in many parts of the world.

               With the legalisation of cannabis there will be a win-win situation for all drug dealers and will tempt addicts to consume more of it. If cannabis is legalised there will be a greater misuse rather than use of it. Hence, it is a myth that legalisation of cannabis will minimise its harms.

Therefore, it can be concluded that there is an urgent need to understand drug problems in the world and contribute towards promoting greater international cooperation for countering its impact on heath, governance and security. There is a need to prevent drug abuse and trafficking rather than legalising cannabis.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Ayushi Negi from Symbiosis Law School, Noida.

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