Cannabis: Not a Dangerous Narcotic

In its 63rd session on December 2, 2020, the United Nations decided that “cannabis is not a dangerous narcotic”, even India voted for this new classification.

Cannabis: Not a Dangerous Narcotic

  Picture Courtesy: North Bay Business Journal

“I have shifted my daughter for higher studies to California because marijuana is legal there,” said a former mayor of Vancouver in an interaction with me in a Mayor’s Congress at Seoul a few years ago. It was a little shock to me. I asked that what she said meant that she has actually pushed her daughter to consume ‘marijuana’. And she said yes. It is better to consume cannabis (Indian name to Marijuana) than to consume some other intoxicant which makes her violent. “At least marijuana will not make her violent, and moreover it is organic.”

I do not intend to comment on the merit of this statement, but a hard fact remains that across the world marijuana is consumed widely, both legally and illegal and lots of parents think it likewise. But there is something more to it. There was a recent development in the international corridors that has drawn attention to this issue.

In its 63rd session on December 2, 2020, the United Nations decided that “cannabis is not a dangerous narcotic”, even India voted for this new classification. The decision was taken by the UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND). It is presumed now that this will lead to changes in the way cannabis is regulated internationally and in India.

Cannabis has been removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Cannabis and cannabis resin were deleted from this Schedule from “strictest control.” Earlier, the use of cannabis was discouraged for even medicinal purposes. Over 50 countries, however allowed cannabis for medicinal use and nearly 15 allowed even for recreational use; these countries include-Uruguay, Canada(later) and a few states in US.

Is the Plant Criminal/What does it Mean for India?

According to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics, marijuana was controlled. Interestingly, the signatory nations were supposed to criminalise “cultivation, production, manufacture, extraction, preparation, possession, offering, offering for sale, distribution, purchase, sale, delivery on any terms whatsoever, brokerage, dispatch, dispatch in transit, transport, importation and exportation of drugs.”

The NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act was passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government with penal provisions in case cannabis was possessed, sold or the plant was grown.

Every year there are thousands of cases registered under the NDPS Act in the country.

It is difficult to ascertain as to how many of the above cases were for consuming, producing, selling cannabis alone. But majority of the offences under NDPS are related to cannabis.

Under the NDPS Act even growing cannabis is an offence, which leads to a position where the plant itself is criminalised. However, without going into the international conventions, a crusader against drugs in Shimla has observed that there was no need to wait for the 63rd session of the CND, actually the NDPS Act allows selective use of the use of cannabis, if at all this is what the government of India wants to do. According to “ Section 14 in The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985: 14. Special provision relating to cannabis.: Notwithstanding anything contained in section 8, Government may, by general or special order and subject to such conditions as may be specified in such order, allow cultivation of any cannabis plant for industrial purposes only of obtaining fibre or seed or for horticultural purposes.”

The successive governments in the country have not been serious into looking at this aspect of the section which allows to grow cannabis for medical/industrial and even horticultural purposes. Rather, the governments criminalised every aspect of cannabis.

Fervent Demand of the Farmers

I remember whilst being the Himachal state president of the AIKS a lot of farmers used to demand for legalising of production of cannabis for horticulture and agriculture/ allied purposes. The demand was several times raised in the state and even in the state legislature by respective elected legislators, but owing to a federal law nothing could be done at the state level.

The kisans, before cannabis was brought under the penal provisions of the NDPS Act, used to grow it widely for their domestic use. From roots to seeds, they say every part of the plant is useful. The roots according to psychiatrists have high medicinal value and are used for treating patients with extreme abnormality. The stem of the plant is used to make boots wore during winters in the houses and for making ropes, which is used for various functions in the villages; the seeds are used for eating that have a high protein value and are grinded to make chutney and used in siddu (local momos). Hence, this plant is considered as one of the most essential plants for the kisans.

How the Indian government intends to bring in the changes with respect to the use of cannabis is yet to be seen but before taking a decision widespread consolations are required. Another area which requires elaborate discussion is putting the plant for recreational use. Malana, a village in Kullu that produces the best quality bhang (product of cannabis) is known throughout the country for the illegal supply of bhang for recreational use.

How much recreation is good recreation? It is difficult to answer this question. In globalisation we must not blindly follow what the rich nations profess. We have seen how under Reagan’s war on drugs, we (Indian government under Rajiv Gandhi) brought in the NDPS Act and banned cultivation of cannabis even for agri-horticulture purposes. Now again with the same set of nations building up this argument due to various reasons, we should not blindly follow the rules and bring about changes in our laws. Our cultural and traditional method of consumption are quite different from them. Take for example smoking bhang for recreational use is not a taboo in the mountain regions, where everyone in the family would smoke together, thus limiting the use and also the access. And this they have been doing since ages together. Also, there are conventional antidotes with age old wisdom to ensure minimum damage. But using it commercially and for commercial use can go limitless thus threatening the lives of the people especially younger generation.

This nevertheless does not discount the fact that the younger generation must be given an opportunity to test, but that test must be under some parameters, else the damage could be irreparable.

So, what does this change in the international arena mean for India, we are not sure. We will have to wait, but also to ensure that the changes if at all are being brought out are done through widespread consultations.