Voices Saturday, June 07, 2014 - 05:30
Keerti Prakasam | The News Minute | 6.17 pm IST The media in Kerala have taken up an anti-marijuana campaign. It would have been welcome, admirable even, had there been any basis in fact. First, there are drugs, and then is marijuana. Marijuana’s classification as a harmful drug has more to do with politics than its physiological effects on the body. In recognition of this, across the world, governments are legalising the usage of marijuana.  Look what the Kerala media is huffing and puffing about The “morally right” Malayalam news channels (almost all of them) have a very open “anti-marijuana” stand. Malayala Manorama in fact started an official campaign under the name “Pukayaruthe Makkale” (Translates roughly into don’t smoke up dear children).  All the peddlers were very diligently caught by police. “Boys” who were found with marijuana were caught, fined and sometimes jailed. Fine. But things get problematic when anything and everything that the cops perceive to be connected to pot are brought into scanner. The Kerala Police have targeted icons like Bob Marley and Che Guevara for the increased drug use among children.  After being arrested, a shop-owner in Thiruvananthapuram had no choice but to change his shop’s name from “Ganja, the end of fashion” to “Django”.  When The News Minute did a story on the fact that drug abuse is being linked to Bob Marley and the like, this correspondent had to speak to a local celebrity from Kerala. Asked about the skewed media coverage on the issue, the celebrity said that the media is doing the right thing as they are acting “moral”.  Prodding him a little more on the Malayalam news media’s coverage of the issue and how they remain mum on the fact that now nations across the world are beginning to legalize it, he said “off the record” that though personally he enjoys smoking marijuana once in a while, he doesn’t know whether 95 percent of the state’s population knows to handle it. (Aside: We are talking about the state which sells record amount of alcohol to its people every year, and seem to be handling that just fine!)  Around the time when police raids on the drug were becoming stricter, whispers from people in the bureaucracy lightly noted that the real issue was that the increased use of marijuana is leading to the reducing alcohol-dependency among people, especially young boys. Alcohol sale is the most profitable business the state runs. For a state which right now is leaning towards the church and saying “no alcohol” and also talks vaguely about the gradual phasing out of the same, this theory may shed some light on the government’s stand.  Why target marijuana? Reports the world over have reiterated that alcohol has more harmful effects than marijuana. But the Kerala media’s anti-marijuana campaign is still feigning ignorance. Every time a peddler was arrested the news channels claim it is their campaign’s impact.  Someone needs to remind them that the hippies carrying a cloth bag and holding a ganja-rolled beedi were not just usual sights in college campuses, but also in the movies of all time favorite Malayalam directors like Padmarajan and Bharatan.  What are India’s laws on marijuana? Well, till 1985 marijuana was the poor man’s “recreation”. But in many festivals like Holi, this poor man’s drug would find its way into the richest of families in the form of Bhaang. The recreational and media cal use of the drug was legal and widespread till 1985. Until then every state government had their own retail shops to sell ganja, charas and hash (All different forms of marijuana).  India was one of the few countries in the world to withstand the United States’ pressure to ban the drug after they banned it under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. Debates still go on, on how marijuana or cannabis which is classified as a psycho-active (Not psychotic!) drug made way into the list of hard drugs, like heroin and cocaine.  The change in the Indian law came through the hands of American sympathizers like Rajeev Gandhi. The drug was banned in 1985 according to a Times of India article. What was more interesting to note, was that the retail shops closed overnight. The lay man, who earlier relied on the drug, could not afford alcohol. This in turn caused them to turn to hard drugs that are locally available.  And for the slightly rich category, marijuana was replaced by drugs like cocaine and heroin which were 10 times more profitable, but dangerous as well. The Times of India in 2012, tells us that the causalities were more and more evident once marijuana was banned; men selling their assets to buy a “packet” of smack were a usual affair.  Thanks to the new lobby of expensive underground drugs, pot remains to be a no-no throughout the country.  But there are also places like Varanasi and Haridwar were the use of marijuana is a regular affair, especially around religious congregations. These are places where nobody can say no to the use of pot, places where the earlier Indian traditions of smoking pot still linger through religions. In another Indian state Manipur, the growing and selling of pot locally is legal.  But even amidst the acknowledgement that the drug was once very much common, and that time was not really long back, the Indian media’s approach to the issue has been very ambiguous. Times of India is pretty much the only media house to openly endorse the legalization of marijuana in the country, even though no evident debate has taken place in that direction.  In 2012, when two American states- Washington and Colarado decided to legalize marijuana it hit the news worldwide. Uruguay’s decision to legalize pot was also a notable step. While these may have found some space in our national news channels, the regional media don’t appear to have got the news.