Decriminalising Marijuana in India

This article is based on the two Indian Express articles (links Indian Express, Indian Express) published today and in October, 2020 respectively.

Why in News

  • US President Biden promises decriminalising the use of marijuana and also gave assurance to clearing out the past convictions related to it during his election campaign.
  • In India also Recent case of wide spread drug usage among Bollywood actors and actresses created a wide debate on whether to legalise Marijuana or not?

 What is Cannabis?

  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cannabis is a generic term used to denote marijuana, hemp, weed etc and several other psychoactive preparations of the plant Cannabis sativa and other plants in Cannabis super family.
  • In general Cannabis family has two major components
  1. CBD (cannabidiol): It is a does not cause intoxication or psychoactive side effects and it is proven as effective chronic pain relief drug
  2. Delta-9 Tetra Hydro Cannabinol (THC) is the major psychoactive constituent in cannabis

The WHO says that cannabis is by far the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused illicit drug in the world.

What is Marijuana and the other terms associated with cannabis?

Marijuana:

  • Marijuana has high THC levels and intense psychoactive effects
  • Hydrophonic weed refers to a soilless medium of cultivation of marijuana whereby instead of being grown in a field, it is grown at home without soil.

Hemp/Weed:

  • It has lesser THC levels and has low psycho active effects compare to Marijuana.
  • Generally, it is procured from the extract of the Marijuana leaves
  • It has wide level of medicinal benefits and industrial uses.
  • It is known as Ganja in Hindi.

Bhang:

  • It is an edible preparation of cannabis, which is ‘consumed either in the form of a drink or smoked’

‘Charas’ is the separated resin extracted from the cannabis plant.

The unpollinated female plants are called hashish. Cannabis oil (hashish oil) is a concentrate of cannabinoids

How the Cannabis/Marijuana is regulated in India?

  • Bhang, charas and ganja were regulated by the state excise departments and legally sold till 1985.
  • In 1985 The Narcotic Drugs and Psychoactive Substances (NDPS) Act has been enacted central level commercial cultivation of cannabis by production, possession, sale/purchase, transportation, interstate import/export or any other forms is punishable. The Act has been amended three times – in 1988, 2001, and most recently in 2014.
  • While CBD oil manufacturing is licenced under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 can be legally used and sold. Some Indian websites do sell. But to purchase it one needs a prescription and many even facilitate it.
  • Similarly, Bhang, ganja and charas are enlisted in the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 for use in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani
Important Provisions of NDPS Act:
  • There are no restrictions on cultivation and procurement of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes.
  • The legislature left seeds and leaves of the cannabis plant out of the ambit of the NDPS Act.
  • The Act establishes Narcotics Control Bureau as the apex drug law enforcement agency and empowers them to oversee the implementation of of NDPS Act and also the other International conventions related to the it..
  • For holding a small quantity, the prescribed punishment is rigorous imprisonment for up to six months, fine of Rs. 10,000 or both.
  • For holding more than a small quantity but less than the commercial quantity, the prescribed punishment is rigorous imprisonment for up to 10 years, fine of Rs. 1 lakh, or both.
  • For holding commercial quantity, the prescribed punishment is rigorous imprisonment for up to 10-20 years, fine of Rs. 1-2 lakh, or both.
  • The Act covers three broad classes of substances:
  1. narcotic drugs, that is, those covered under the 1961 UN single Convention on Narcotic drugs;
    • Hashish, resin or charas, ganja, any mixture of charas or ganja is prohibited.
    • Bhang or the cannabis leaf is excluded from the act, but regulated through state excise laws.
    • leaf; derivatives include cocaine and any preparation containing 0.1% of cocaine
    • Opium: Poppy based products, preparations with 0.2% morphine
  2. psychotropic substances or those covered under the 1971 UN Convention on psychotropic substances as well as other psychoactive substances such as ketamine which are not yet classified under international conventions; and
  3. “Controlled substances” that are used to manufacture narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances, for example precursor chemicals such as acetic anhydride, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
  • ‘Manufactured substances’ category includes drugs such as Amphetamines, methamphetamines, LSD’s
What are the significant aspects of the Act?
  • The Act prescribes quantity-based punishment. The Act differentiates between small and commercial quantities of various drugs such as:
    • Heroin: 5 grams-250 grams
    • Cocaine: 2 grams-100 grams
    • Hashish or Charas: 100 grams-1 kg
    • Opium: 25 grams-2.5 kg
    • Ganja: 1kg-20 kg
  • The Act Criminalize people who use drugs and provide treatment for their relief from National Fund for the Control of Drug Abuse.

Why Marijuana should be legalised?

  • Historic significance of Marijuana in India:
    • In later Vedic literature Atharva Veda mentions Bhang plant as one of the 5 sacred plants and usage of Bhang since ancient times is common during the Hindu festivals of Holi and Mahashivaratri.
    • Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in 1894 recommended against complete ban and found the usage as ancient and religious. (For source)
    • In 1961, India opposed the inclusion of marijuana in the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, citing its role in social and religious customs
  • WHO study concluded Marijuana is not as unhealthy compared to alcohol and tobacco products.
    • It implies that the harms associated with marijuana use were greatly overestimated and society should respond to its use through progressive public health policies rather than ban.
  • Magnitude of substance use in India: This is a survey released by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2019, it states that about 2.8 percent of Indians aged 10–75 years (3.1 crore people) were using cannabis in one form or other. (for source)
  • Burden on Executive and Judiciary:
    • Narcotics Control Bureau investigate, interrogate and arrest people with small or miniscule amounts of marijuana and produce them in front of judiciary. It requires huge man power and state exchequer to control small or miniscule amounts of drug usage.
    • It leads to wide scope of corruption at lower level of executive which harass people even for petty crimes.
    • By legalising it India can release many young people landed in overcrowded jails whose only crime was using marijuana for fun and free up precious police time and go after the big drug mafias.
  • International wave of legalization of cannabis, based on its medicinal properties and commercial utilities Ex. Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize marijuana in 2013. Then Canada followed the path.Now many states in USA legalised marijuana.
Why Marijuana should stay Illegal? (Financial Express)
  • Short- and long-term side effects of Marijuana
    • Short term side effects may include a short-term memory loss, impaired motor skills, dry mouth and feelings of paranoia or anxiety.
    • In long term addiction, decreased mental ability and behavioural problems in children (when mothers used marijuana during pregnancy)
  • Marijuana is a gateway drug
    • A private study found more than 40% who used marijuana also used other ‘Hard’ drugs.
  • Against the Directive Principles of Article 47 which specifically calls for the prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs that are injurious to health
  • Against International Conventions such as 1961 and 1971 UN conventions against Narcotic drugs and Psychotropic substances respectively and also International Opium Convention’ (1925).
  • Difficulty in regulation: The fallouts of pharmaceutical product divergence into cattle market and drugs without prescription can continue in Marijuana too and put India’s younger generation at risk
  • Not have completely proven medical records. For Ex., there is no evidence that cannabis is beneficial when used in diseases such as Crohn’s disease, sleep disorder, glaucoma, etc.

Way forward:

Instead of banning, India at present needs a progressive public health policy which control their use and reduce the harms by focusing on health education, age restrictions for buying, taxation policies, limiting the dose of the active ingredients and access to counselling for those who wish to stop is the need of the hour.

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