Cannabis Phobia in India

Reading time : 10 minutes

Abstract

With the legalization of marijuana for medical and industrial purposes by many countries, it has led to an ongoing debate on whether marijuana is harmful for humans or not. In India, marijuana has been in our culture and used in many form. Besides this, it has many medical qualities like providing relief from the pain of chemotherapy even in HIV. Legalizing marijuana has always been a debatable topic after the NDPS Act in 1985, and the point to be noticed in the Act is why “ganja” and charas” are illegal but bhang is left out altogether. The paper’s objective is to bring to light the usefulness of cannabis and whether it should be decriminalised in India

KEY WORDS : Cannabis, Marijuana, Legalization, Medicinal and Industrial Purposes.

1.INTRODUCTION

What is marijuana? Marijuana is a plant having the scientific name of cannabis sativa. It is also called weed, ganja, pot, Mary Jane and many other names. It is greenish-grey in colour. Marijuana has mind-altering components that affect both your brain and body. It makes the mind relax and is used for recreational and medical purpose. The main active element in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabidinol(THC). Use of marijuana and its other derivatives have been in the history of India for a long time. Till 1985 marijuana and its derivatives were sold in India without any interruption but due to the pressure of the US, the government enacted the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act which led to the strengthening of black market for marijuana. Not only does it lead to people using hard drugs but even open opportunities for children to come in contact with these drugs.

2.BENEFITS OF LEGALIZING MARIJUANA

There are many reasons for legalizing marijuana. The same has been seen by countries like Canada, the USA, Mexico, Uruguay, Netherlands, The Czech Republic and many more. Some of the reasons are given below:

  • INCREASE GOVERNMENT REVENUE – Legalizing marijuana will enable the country to earn revenue through taxing it. Nearly 500 economists led by “Nobel prize winner Milton Friedman”, wrote a newsletter to US President George Bush, stating marijuana to be “legal but taxed and regulated like other good[1]. According to the report of Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, sales in the US are expected to grow to $12.2 billion in 2019, and to $31.1 billion by 2024. The cannabis legalization in many U.S. States has brought several economic benefits. Tax range varies from 10 to 37%, and some states earned in millions of dollars which was not a big surprise.[2] According to a research, Mumbai and Delhi are among the top 10 in the consumption of marijuana all over the world.[3] So, if marijuana is taxed just like tobacco and alcohol, large amount of funds can be generated which can then be invested in education, infrastructure, etc. A great example to use pot money is given by Aurora in Colorado. They constructed a shelter for the homeless. Similarly, Pueblo was using marijuana tax for providing scholarship to underprivileged students in 2017.[4]
  • CREATING JOB OPPORTUNITY –Colorado is such a great example here. 10,000 new jobs were created there because of marijuana industry. In India, it can be of great benefit as not only that our country has suitable soil and climate but we have strong global recall in relation to ganja and bhang. Legalizing and regulating marijuana will lead to jobs in both the agriculture and retail sector.
  • MYTH REGARDING MARIJUANA ADDICTION Nicotine, the most used drug surpassing the age restrictions is termed as the most addictive drug [5] A research conducted by NIDA ranked commonly used or abused drugs on the basis of their addiction. “Cannabis was ranked least addictive and caffeine was second least addictive“.[6]
  • ELIMINATE ILLEGAL TRADE – In India we already have a high level of crime. Legalizing marijuana will eliminate its sale in the black market which will further reduce the crime. According to a study, it specifies that the crime rate in state with Mexican border fell by 13% when marijuana was legalized for medical purpose.[7] Before the NDPS Act cannabis was easily available in India and even after this act, it is still available at high rates and poor quantity. If we are not legalizing it, we are letting the money fall in the wrong hands. Marijuana was criminalized under the pressure of the US, but now many states of the US have legalized it with regulation. Now it’s our time to do the same. Legalizing marijuana means that there is no need to buy marijuana from illegal or black market hence reducing the customers of drug traffickers. We know that much of the crime in drug originates from the status of “illegal” thus legalizing the drug decreases the crime rate. As in the US, legalization of cannabis has led to decreased crime rates. India is even not below in matters of crime. If cannabis is legalized in India, we can even see the change here.
  • MEDICAL BENEFITS –There are many benefits of marijuana if used in an appropriate amount.

a) “A study published in the Journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, states that Cannabidiol has the ability to stop cancer by tuning off a gene called Id-1“.[8]

b) In 2011, the researchers stated that in case of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, marijuana was no less than a medicine. it reduced their pain and helped them in sleeping.

c) It treats glaucoma and reduces anxiety- Glaucoma leads to additional pressure on eyeballs. Cannabis can reduce this pressure and thus providing temporary relief. And marijuana consumption under monitored circumstances according to an individual’s condition can help in case of anxiety, as it calms down the person consuming it.

d) Helps to treat depression – Depression is a type of disease that most people having it are unaware of it. “The endocannabinoid compounds in cannabis can help in stabilising moods which can ease depression.[9]

e) Regulates seizures – “Research conducted on the same matter showed that CBD can help control seizures. There are ongoing studies to determine the effect of cannabis on different individuals with epilepsy.”[10] In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of medicine containing CBD to treat types of epilepsy. [11]

f) Helps in ADHD/ADD – Individuals with ADHD and ADD have trouble paying attention and focusing. Cannabis has shown promising efforts in helping them focus. Marijuana is considered to be safer and better alternative in comparison to Adderall and Ritalin.[12]There are many more health benefits of marijuana and many more yet to be found as there are more than 400 other chemicals yet to be known but due to the ban of marijuana, the research of it is quite difficult.

3.CONTROVERSIES REGARDING MARIJUANA

If marijuana is used on a regular basis, then it is as harmful as any other intoxicant. Some of the reasons for not legalizing marijuana are:

  • A GATEWAY DRUG – Cannabis is often termed as “gateway drug”, which means it will not the cause of using more serious and hard drugs. There is very little evidence to back this claim.

This theory states that a less harmful can lead to the path of using harmful drugs. Marijuana, tobacco and alcohol comes under this ideology. Few researches show that the use of marijuana can increase the percentage of using more dangerous drugs while other studies say it cannot.

Marijuana can be termed as a “terminus” drug as most of its consumers do not use harder drugs.

Marijuana is the most used illicit drug. So, if the gateway drug theory were true then we would be seeing many more users of other illicit drugs but the vast majority of the population who use marijuana do not use any other drugs.[13]In fact, more drug abuse starts with the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Journal of school health published a story concluding that the “theory of gateway drug is not associated with marijuana[14] but with a more abused and socially accepted substance: alcohol.

This isn’t to say that marijuana use should be promoted among children, but we need to tell them the truth rather than scaring them with myths.

  • EFFECT ON BRAIN -“A The 35-year cohort study, published in August 2012, outlines the link between chronic marijuana use and neuropsychological decline“,[15] that the use of marijuana after 18 years of age did not show any such decline.

And the existing research suggests that the above study was an overestimate and that the effect could be 0. In order to be sure of the harms of marijuana on a human, scientists all over the world should be allowed to do legitimate research rather than painting their opinion about this medicine/ recreational drug all over the world.

  • HARM TO THE BODY – The effect on the body varies on the method through which it is consumed. Smoking it with tobacco causes tar to build up in the lungs (due to the presence of tobacco). A 2012 study correlated with other studies by The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found no significant association between marijuana use and lung function impairment.[16]

4.LEGAL ASPECT

   History

Prior to 1985, there was no law in India banning the use and possession of marijuana. Many religious vocations involve the use of cannabis plant, and cannabis and its derivatives were sold without any interruption throughout India and not considered separate from alcohol. One of the major reasons behind the formation of the NDPS Act is the “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,1961″. This purpose of this convention was to prevent the production and sale of specific drugs. It was larger than the other conventions because it had included the new drugs in the market that did not exist before. The US adopted such law in the form of the “Controlled Substance Act” and the UK through the “Misuse of Drugs Act”. This was the first universal accord that combined cannabis with hard drugs. For 25 years, India did not take any step against these drugs but as the drug war increased and India’s economic position weakened, Rajiv Gandhi’s government had to introduce the NDPS Act.

The most important question is why is marijuana classified as schedule 1 drug by the DEA if it can be used for medical and industrial purpose.

“Sec.2 defines cannabis as charas that is, different resin of any kind, which is obtained from cannabis plant and includes hashish oil; ganja, the flowering top of the plant (not including the seeds and foliage. Cannabis specification do not include leaves or seeds if they do not include the flower.”[17] Bhang is not covered under this act. Bhang is made from marijuana leaves and is consumed in many states. Just because it is not made from cannabis resin or flowering tops, it is left out of the Act. UP and many states have permitted the consumption and sale of bhang.

Also sec. 8 states that no person shall cultivate the opium poppy or any cannabis plant as well as the production, manufacture, distribution including warehousing, transport, purchasing and selling of prohibited drugs and psychotropic substances [18]with an exception for medical or scientific purposes in the manner and to the extent provided by the provisions of this Act. According to this section medical or scientific use of marijuana is permitted but using for recreation purpose is illegal. However, medical use of it is limited to Homeopathy and Ayurveda. Many State Governments have not even given license to cultivate cannabis. The Cannabis plant can be a source of biomass and fibre for industrial purpose and its seeds can be used to produce high-value oil. Some countries have license cultivation of cannabis having very low THC, which is the active ingredient having an intoxicating effect.

Section 20 provides the punishment for contravention concerning the cannabis plant. It divides the quantum of punishment into 3 categories: small, less than commercial, and commercial. So, the punishment may vary from 6-12 months of imprisonment or a fine of Rs.10,000 or both if the drugs found are in small quantity, to 10-20 years of imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 1 lakh but may extend to 2 lakhs (fine of an amount exceeding Rs. 2 lakhs can even be imposed depending upon the case) if the drugs are in large or commercial quantity. The small quantity for marijuana is 1 kg and the commercial quantity is 20 kg.

In other words, marijuana is termed illegal not just for consumption purpose but even for the purpose of selling and distribution under the NDPS Act.

As per section 23, if a person is involved in illegal import and export of narcotics drugs he will be facing a punishment of 1 to 20 years and fine ranging between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 2 lakhs based on the quantity. Sec. 24 states that if a person involves in trading of the contravention of the act outside the country will be punished with incarceration ranging from 10-20 years and penalty ranging between 1-2 lakh rupees. If a person under his complete sense allows his/her premises to be occupied for doing any offence under the NDPS Act or finance illicit traffic or providing shelter to an offender shall face the same punishment.

I believe that this act unfairly classifies ganja, charas with bhang. Why is bhang consumed legally while charas and ganja are illegal? The government has failed to mark a difference between hard and soft drugs. The strict zero-tolerance policy of the government has blinded it from taking into consideration the benefits of this sacred plant. And the government is more focused on sending addicts to jail rather than treating them.

5.Ongoing case regarding legalizing of marijuana:

Till now no major steps has been taken by the court stating that he legislature, and not the court, was the appropriate forum for the challenge in the PIL filed by Advocate Barthakur in the Bombay High Court on the ground that the legislature, and not the court, was the appropriate forum for the challenge in the year 2015. In the year 2019, a plea was filed by Great Legalization Movement India Trust (GLMIT)[19]. Advocates Avinash K Sharma and Ashutosh Nagar are at the forefront of filing this petition, while Senior Advocate Arvind Datar and advocate J sai Deepak are representing the petitioner. As many other cases have been declined, so during the course of hearing the Petitioner’s counsel requested the court to distinguish his plea from another plea which was filed earlier. The previous plea stated for the legalization of the drug, however, the present plea only challenges the sections of the NDPS Act. The petition claims that cannabis use has both medical and industrial use and the same has been backed up by many scientific researches. In the same year, WHO insists for the removal of the cannabis plant and cannabis resin from Schedule 4 of a 1961 drug convention signed by countries all over the world. Schedule 4 includes the substance that are considered harmful with limited medical benefits.[20]It further argues that various scientific research papers published by the WHO and the IHDC in 1984 established the medical benefit of marijuana. IHDC concluded that there was no need to completely ban both hemp cultivation and production of drugs derived from it.[21]

It states that the government has failed to consider the therapeutic benefits of marijuana, such as cancer, analgesics, nausea and increased appetite in cancer patients. The petitioner has also listed several industrial applications of the plant. It can be used to produce fibreboards and furniture, nutritious supplements, yarns and spun fibre, bio-fuels and more.

On the above grounds, the petitioner argues that various sections of the NDPS Act violate Articles 14, 19, 21, 15 and 29 of the Constitution of India. The plea even points out the act of allowing government-run bhang shops but prohibiting cannabis under the Act, and calls it “unfathomable”.

6.Why marijuana was actually criminalized?

Even though marijuana is a natural intoxicant then why was it called a synthetic drug. Why was it clubbed with Schedule 1 drugs by the DEA regardless of the fact that it has medical and industrial benefits.

The whole propaganda can be traced back to American liquor and pharmaceuticals companies. The pharmaceuticals manufacture pain killers and many other medicines from marijuana, and sell them to the consumer at higher rates. Legalizing marijuana would affect their business and decrease their sale at large. In 2013, it is discovered that in the 17 states in USA with medical-marijuana law, prescription for painkillers and other classes of drug fell down in comparison to the states that did not legalize marijuana. In medical-marijuana state, the typical physician prescribed 1,826 fewer dosage of painkillers in a given year.[22]

Not only the pharmaceutical companies, but the alcohol industry is even against legalize marijuana as the states having marijuana legalized saw 10% decrease in alcohol consumption.

Most of the NGO’s spreading myths about marijuana and distancing the public from its benefit and truth are funded by none other the pharmaceutical, liquor and tobacco companies. This is done in order to create a negative image regarding marijuana so that they don’t lose their customers.

In the month of May, 2021 Himachal Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said that the state government is coming up with a policy to allow controlled cultivation of hemp or cannabis in the state.

7. CONCLUSION

To conclude my research paper, Cannabis is not just a drug that has been in the history of our country but is a medicine whose benefits are vast and it should be legalized with appropriate regulations. Cannabis from India is famous globally because it naturally grows here in uncountable numbers. Even in the Atharva Veda ( Chapter 11, Varak number 6,verse number 15 ) marijuana is described as one of the five most sacred plants on earth. So, rather than treating it as evil we should benefit from it. Imposing tax on sale of marijuana would be beneficial or our country in order to create receipts. This will reduce the black market at a huge rate but the legal price determined should not be too high that the black-market price. In order to make marijuana available to the public, retail shops and many more people would be required to form a chain for production and transportation of the product. This will produce large job opportunities in the retail sector. And increase in employment rate is what our country requires now. When marijuana is legalized, its consumption and production will be monitored through rules and regulation. With the legalization, marijuana trade won’t be controlled by drug dealers. This way the government can make sure that weed is staying away from the reach of humans below 18 years of age. And the most important reason for legalizing of marijuana is its medicinal value, as cannabis can provide relief from diseases like cancer, AIDS etc and even provides relief from pain which morphine type drug could not. Many people are getting educated about the benefits of marijuana and realising that marijuana is no different than alcohol and tobacco. And to be precise, judicious use of cannabis is far better than consuming alcohol and tobacco. In December 2015, Lok Sabha Mp from Odisha, Tathagata Satpathy had advised that weed should be legalized in order to fight the alcohol addiction. Dr Maneka Gandhi, Union Women and Child Development Minister in 2017 even recommended legalizing cannabis. She suggested that such a move would help to control drug abuse, which other countries have experienced, where marijuana is legal. And also Cannabis should be legalized as it is a soft drug and illegal in India which will lead to people using hard drugs as the punishment for both is same. Regarding NDPS Act, it is known to pretty much everyone that NDPS Act has failed in achieving its objective and has directly led to the achievement of the goals of drug traffickers and smugglers. Even the United Nations Conference on 12th March 2009 admitted that ‘the war on drugs’ has failed. Not long ago, marijuana was legal in India but due to the pressure from the US was made illegal. Now many states of the US have made that drug legal and this is our chance to get benefit from the drug which is grown in abundance in our own region.


[1] CHANGE.ORG, https://www.change.org/p/government-of-india-legalize-marijuana-in-india   (last visited May 5, 2020)

[2] Niall McCarthy, Which states made the most tax revenue from marijuana in 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/03/26/which-states-made-the-most-tax-revenue-from-marijuana-in-2018-infographic/#12142a2b7085 ( last visited May , 2020)

[3] Sabah K. & Apoorva Mandhani& Fatima Khan &Chitleensethi, How legalizing cannabis can help india ease some of its economic burden, https://theprint.in/report/how-legalising-cannabis-can-help-india-ease-some-of-its-economic-burden/32671/  ( last visited May 5,2020)

[4] Blair Miller, Pueblo county’s marijuana tax-funded scholorship program continues to expand, https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/politics/pueblo-countys-marijuana-tax-funded-scholarship-program-continues-to-expand  ( last visited May 16, 2020 )

[5] Sandra Blakeslee, NICOTINE: HARDER TO KICK…THAN HEROIN, https://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/29/magazine/nicotine-harder-to-kickthan-heroin.html?pagewanted=all  ( last visited May 5, 2020 )

[6] Philip J. Hilts, Relative Addictiveness of drugs, http://www.tfy.drugsense.org/tfy/addictvn.htm ( last visited May 5, 2020 )

Kyle Jaeger, legal substance more addictive than marijuana, https://archive.attn.com/stories/3913/legal-substances-more-addictive-than-marijuana ( last visited May 14, 2020 )

[7] Evelina Gavrilova & Takuma Kamada& Floris Zoutman, Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organisation? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ecoj.12521  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[8]  McAllister SD & Christian RT & Horowitz MP & Garcia A &Desprez PY, Cannabidiol as a novel inhibitor of Id-1 gene expression in agressive breast cancer cells, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18025276  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[9] Cathy Wilde, RIA neuroscience study points to possible use of medical marijuana for depression, https://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2015/02/004.html  ( last visited May 6, 2020)

[10] Medicinal Marijuana and Epilepsy, https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/other-treatment-approaches/medical-marijuana-and-epilepsy  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[11] FDA approves first  drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy, https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-drug-comprised-active-ingredient-derived-marijuana-treat-rare-severe-forms  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[12] Bailey Rahn, Cannabis and ADD/ADHD, https://www.leafly.com/news/health/cannabis-and-addadhd  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[13] Chris Alexander, Debunking the “Gateway” Myth, https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[14] Debunking the “Gateway” myth, https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf ( last visited May 7,2020 )

[15]AnahadO’Connar, Moderate Marijuana Use Does Not Impair Lung Function, https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/marijuana-smoking-does-not-harm-lungs-study-finds/  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[16] Marc Kaufman, Study Finds No Cancer-Marijuana Connection, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729.html  ( last visited May 6, 2020)

[17] NDPS Act, 1985, page number  5, Lawmann’s

[18] NDPS Act, 1985, page number  11, Lawmann’s

[19] Great Legalization Movement India Trust , https://www.glm.org/

[20] Abhishek Jha, PIL seeks legalization of cannabis, Delhi High Court seeks government’s stand, https://www.cnbctv18.com/legal/pil-seeks-legalisation-of-cannabis-delhi-high-court-seeks-governments-stand-4658471.htm  ( last visited May 6, 2020 )

[21]Soibam Singh, HC issues on plea against cannabis use, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/hc-issues-notice-on-plea-against-cannabis-use/article29902666.ece  ( last visited May 7, 2020 )

[22]  Christopher Ingraham, One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/13/one-striking-chart-shows-why-pharma-companies-are-fighting-legal-marijuana/  ( last visited May 14, 2020 )

Author: Sarim Fazli

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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