Today, if you are caught with a gram or two of cannabis a.ka. ganja, you can face five to 20 years of jail-time
Veiled in legends and religion, Cannabis has had a long history in India. The first mention of smoking cannabis occurs in the Atharva Veda, and today, government-approved bhang shops in towns like Jaisalmer and Pushkar and cities like Varanasi are active year-round.
Bhang has long been of cultural significance in India, and when the British consolidated their rule over the country, they decided to crack down against its widespread use.
In the late 19th century, they commissioned a study of its side effects and cultural significance. The report, which was 3281 pages long, was prepared by the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission. The report contained testimonies from almost 1200 people from various backgrounds—doctors, fakirs, and even army officers.
Unsurprisingly, it concluded that the “moderate” use of hemp drugs “produces no injurious effects on the mind” and “no moral injury whatever.”
Legally sold in India until 1985, cannabis found everyday recreational use.
America began a worldwide campaign against all drugs in the 60s, and while India initially opposed it, in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi’s government enforced the NDPS Act, banning all narcotic drugs in India.
The harshest by-product of that Act? Categorising cannabis together with hard drugs, like opiates and cocaine. Today, if you are caught with a gram or two of cannabis, you can face jail-time from five to 20 years.
However, the Act made a small distinction for bhang. It excluded the cannabis seeds and leaves, when not accompanied by flower or fruit top, from its definition of ‘cannabis,’ and Bhang consumption carries on to this day.
It has been 32 years since the NDPS Act came into being, and cannabis has been pushed further into uncertainty, with regards to legalisation, but has seen an increase in consumption pattern over the same period.
Ironically, the US started legalising marijuana in 2014 and has authorised the medical use of marijuana in 29 out of 50 states. The effect—increased revenues, reduced crime rates and lesser drug-related arrests.
A Case For Legalising Marijuana
The calming benefits of the drug are well known. Cannabinoids, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, can activate receptors in the body and can control nausea, vomiting, anxiety, pain and muscle spasticity, and reduce the harmful and painful side effects of chemotherapy.
India has about 3 million cancer patients, according to a report in Firstpost in 2016. Medical practitioners have pushed the government to lift the ban so that studies can be done on the actual use of cannabinoids for cancer patients.
Top medical institutes, including AIIMS and the Tata Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, have asked for permission to test cannabis oil for therapeutic use, and palliative chemotherapy.
A report in TOI reported the use of cannabis in treating at least ten significant health conditions, like migraines, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and OCD. Sameer Kaul, a surgical oncologist, who also runs the Breast Cancer Patients Benefit Foundation, told the Quartz, “Marijuana is a far safer and subtle form of an agent which can help control pain,” referring to the fewer side-effects and lower addictive capacity of marijuana as compared to opioids.
Perhaps the most confirmative statement comes from Harvard, where a 2007 study, considered the most comprehensive on Tetra Hydro Cannabinol (THC), said that in 3 weeks flat, THC reduced tumour cell suicide, while leaving health non-tumour cells alone in mice subjects, and reducing cancer lesions even further.
Cannabis derivatives have their own industry. Viki, via the Indian Hemp Research Institute, wants to introduce products such as hemp-produced wood, paper, textiles, biofuel, bioplastics, bio-cement and bio-batteries, hemp food and even cosmetics.
The Indian Hemp Research Institute aims to invent, innovate and share the discoveries with various social entrepreneurs in India.
Standing up for ‘Ganja’
Recently voices and opinions have spoken up regarding the legalisation of cannabis. Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, a retired cardiologist, and an MP from Patiala introduced a bill in July 2017, to legalise certain natural intoxicants, including marijuana.
Recently cleared by the Parliament’s legislative branch, it is likely to be introduced as a Private Member’s Bill, in the upcoming winter parliamentary session. The bill aims to separate natural drugs, from the artificial ones.
Other prominent figures have raised voices, advocating for the decriminalisation of marijuana in India. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy are among them. The late BJP MP Vinod Khanna had also supported this cause.
Among our country’s citizenry, one voice stands out, calling out for the legalisation of marijuana in India. This is the Great Legalisation Movement–India, which began in 2014 and is a brainchild of Viki Vaurora.
The non-profit organisation educates the populace about the benefits of the cannabis plant. Via its website and social media handle, it hopes to spread a positive message, and its ultimate dream is the legalisation of cannabis in India. The legalisation should be all-encompassing—recreational use, medicinal use and spiritual use.
The movement is a collective voice of all the people who are in need of cannabis, for all of its known use and organised the first march in favour of legalisation, and is all set for another nation-wide rally, on January 7th, 2018.
It has faced several setbacks in its journey so far. When members of the organisation approached the Karnataka Government, with evidence of the benefits of cannabis, it refused to act, saying that they wanted to wait for another state to make a move. Undeterred, the members have written an open letter to the Prime Minister, to discuss this more, and deliver the blueprint for legalisation.
The organisation also wants to set up a non-profit medical research institute, in conjunction with the government, to study the properties of cannabis plants. Despite the lack of political support, the organisation is confident that their voice will be heard.
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So what is the way forward? Legalisation may still be a long way away, but as some marches prove, decriminalisation is considered the first step.