Marijuana, also known as weed or ganja is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried flowers of Cannabis sativa. Marijuana is utilized and consumed in its various forms for psychoactive recreational, pharmaceutical, spiritual and religious purposes.
The World Drug Report 2021, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) accentuates the fact that in the past 24 years, the potency of cannabis has increased, in some parts by as much as four times. But the number of adolescents who see it as a harmful drug has drastically reduced, by as much as 40%. It is important to note that, cannabis potency is an important factor while considering cases of drug abuse as cannabis potency is the factor that further leads to the development of mental health issues in the long term. This substantial decrease in awareness among the youth about the harmful impacts of cannabis can be attributed to the aggressive marketing of cannabis and related products and their extensive promotion on social media platforms. On the dark web as well, cannabis is involved in the highest number of drug transactions.
In India, the regulation and prohibition of the cultivation, production, storage, trade, utilization, and consumption of marijuana as also other narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is governed by The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Act, 1985, (Hereinafter referred to as “The NDPS Act”).
Recent Changes in the United Nations’ Stand on Cannabis
On December 9, 2020, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (Hereinafter referred to as “CND”) voted to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This vote was passed at the 63rd session of the CND, where the body chose to act upon the recommendation provided by the World Health Organization in the year 2019, to remove cannabis from its most dangerous category. Out of the 53 nations that are a part of the CND, 27 voted in favor of the re-classification, 25 voted against it and 1 country abstained from voting. India was a part of the voting majority, which also included the United States and most European nations while Pakistan, Russia, and China were some of the countries that voted against the re-classification. Ukraine had abstained. Further, it should be noted that both cannabis and cannabis resin will continue to remain on Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Although this is a significant step taken by the CND, this wouldn’t have any immediate impact on the legal status of cannabis across the globe as long as individual countries do not make modifications to their existing regulations and legislations.
Cannabis: History and Cultivation in India
Cannabis has been consumed in India for around 2000 years and the Sushruta Samhita, an ancient medical discourse written by Rishi Sushruta, advises the extract of cannabis as a remedy for respiratory ailments and diarrhea. However, in the year 1798, the British levied a tax on the by-products of cannabis in an effort to decrease its consumption.
As of now, in India, the production of cannabis is banned except in the state of Uttarakhand where it can be cultivated after obtaining a license from the state. On the contrary, the production of poppy, a flowering plant that produces psychoactive alkaloids like opium, heroin, morphine & codeine, is overlooked by the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) and the same can only be cultivated in certain specific parts of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. Both of these plants are cultivated for medicinal purposes, although cannabis is also consumed in certain spiritual and religious festivals, like Holi.
Cannabis: Indian Laws and Legislations
The NDPS Act and several other laws laid down in other States criminalize the consumption of cannabis or any of its by-products. However, the respective States of India are also free in drafting and enacting their own legislation in order to allow and regulate “the cultivation of any cannabis plant, production, manufacture, possession, transport, import inter-State, export inter-State, sale, purchase consumption or use of cannabis (excluding charas).”
Under Section 20 of the NDPS Act, anyone found cultivating cannabis may face a sentence of rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years in addition to a hefty fine of Rs. 1,00,000 being levied on the individual.
If found in possession of small quantities (100 grams for charas and hashish, 1,000 grams for ganja), either a fine of Rs. 10,000 can be levied on the individual or he/she can be sentenced to a maximum of six months of rigorous imprisonment or both. Further, if found possessing a quantity greater than small quantities but lesser in comparison to commercial quantities, the individual can be punished with a sentence for rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years as also a fine extending up to Rs. 1,00,000. Furthermore, if an individual is found possessing commercial quantities (1 kg for charas and hashish, 20 kgs of ganja), a penalty of Rs. 2,00,000 can be imposed on the individual in addition to a sentence of rigorous imprisonment extending up to a duration of 20 years.
Section 25 of the NDPS Act lays down that if an individual, knowingly permits usage of his premises in furtherance of the commission of an offense listed in the NDPS Act, he/she will face the same punishment as established under Section 20 and Section 28 of the NDPS Act.
The Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act, 1958 criminalizes the sale, purchase, possession, and consumption of ganja and bhang in the state of Assam. Similar to this is, under the purview of Section 66(1)(b) of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, manufacturing, possessing, and consuming bhang and substances containing bhang are criminalized activities in the state of Maharashtra.
While the above can be termed as certain laws that prohibit and criminalize possession, consumption, and trade of ganja and bhang, on the contrary, there are also enacted laws that legalize certain activities related to such substances. On February 21, 2017, bhang was legalized in the state of Gujarat from the list of “intoxicating drugs.” In the year 2018, Uttarakhand became the first state in India to permit the commercial cultivation of hemp.
There have been numerous arguments regarding the legalization of marijuana and cannabis in India and as there are two sides to each coin, both sides have certain valid points to put forward. Cannabis has proven medicinal uses and has over 25,000 industrial applications, making it a highly sought-after plant. Marijuana is a drug, and like all drugs, it too has both positive and negative effects. On the contrary, absolute freedom or lack of restrictions can lead to excessive exposure of such drugs and psychotropic substances to a large section of the populace which can include youth and minors as well. This will be detrimental not only to individual health but also to society as a whole, as there have been well-documented side effects and health issues associated with cannabis and marijuana and its drug abuse. With proper legislative measures and strict enforcement of such measures, illegal marijuana trade can be curbed and wrongful exposure to youth and adolescents can be prevented while simultaneously harnessing the potential of the drug for commercial and pharmaceutical.