Marijuana, Cannabis, Hemp, Ganja, Charas, Weed, Pot, Mary Jane - for a drug with many names on the streets of India, the discussion on the subject among lawmakers is almost negligible. It has been thirty years since the Indian government passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychtotropic Substances Act that banned all forms of Marijuana except “Bhang.”
Marijuana has been prevalent in several Indian texts dating earlier than 1000 BC as part of religious and spiritual rituals, even finding mention in The Vedas.
There have been a lot of arguments for decriminalizing marijuana consumption from multiplereports in the Times of India to online petitions and Facebook pages. However, very few arguments have cropped up against the cause.
Why then, is the country still facing a tough time legalizing medicinal marijuana, to begin with, and then start a debate on using the drug for recreational purposes?
In 1894, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission was formed under the British ruled India, who conducted a wide-ranging study of cannabis in India. The result was a 477-page report stating that the moderate use of the drug practically produced no ill effects.
It further state that "In respect to the alleged mental effects of the drugs, the Commission has come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs produces no injurious effects on the mind."
Fast forward to 1961, when an international treaty titled the 'Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs' was signed, which clubbed Cannabis with other Schedule 1 drugs like Opium and Cocaine.
However, the treaty still allowed India to carry on the tradition of large-scale consumption of 'bhang' and gave the country 25 years to clamp down on the drug's recreational use, at the end of which, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (India) was passed in 1985. After a few amendments, it remains in effect to date.
Exceptions to the rule
When we hear the terms “MPs in Parliament,” the picture that comes to mind, isn't encouraging. People shouting at each other, rushing into the well and crowding around the Speaker before staging a walk out are all common sight in the country.
However, a small segment of politicians are raising issues that they consider close to their hearts. Biju Janata Dal's (BJD) chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Tathagata Satpathy, is one such MP who has become a torch bearer for the cause, after his speech advocating the legalization of Cannabis and abolition of Section 377.
“I feel in these socially conservative times, somebody is needed, to bell the cat,” he told The Hindu. “Cannabis is a drug that has been given a bad name, the alcohol lobby, peddling something far more dangerous, has managed to club cannabis with more dangerous narcotics,” he said.
In another interview to the Times of India, the four -time MP said "We are the US of the '50s and the '60s. We are wannabes. The thinking is that if you hold a wine glass people will consider you belong to the upper class. You roll a joint and people will call you “charsi.” It is an elitist bias...Cannabis suffered a ban because it was an intoxicant of the poor."
Can the country learn from Odisha?
Cannabis, is legal in certain places in India, like Odisha, where you can walk up to a government excise shop and buy your day's need. Here's a menu with the rates from 2012.
This not only regulates the drug, so that the state can control the trade, it also generates revenue for the government in taxes besides offering more employment options.
In states with ideal conditions, marijuana is the only source of income for many local farmers, as it is easy and quick to grow. However, since it is banned, the farmers are forced to sell it to drug dealers for throwaway rates, while also fearing the police.
"When you ban something, one of the main results of it is that it promotes underground rings and results in an 'illicit' trade. In Odisha, we never looked at it like a drug, so we have never had a problem with it," Satpathy tells TNM.
When asked if the other members of Parliament were ready to have a debate on decriminalization, he said "They are neither ready nor interested to have a discussion on the issue."
"If the states really want to ban or control drugs, ban alcohol shops within the vicinity of a highway," he added.
Many states in the US like Colorado have legalized marijuana, and it seems to be doing more good than harm. However, as far as our country is concerned, the jury is still out.