Weed Laws
Are we ready to legalize recreational weed? Narcotics cops say no

The Chennai city police on Thursday made a drug-bust which grabbed quite a bit of attention. No, it wasn’t a drug-bust of astronomical proportions or a celebrity who was caught. A young musician who was growing weed in flower-pots on his terrace and used to smoke joints with his friends was arrested. It could have been anyone of us (Not like anyone of us have ever smoked a joint. Ahem.)

Yes, growing pot isn’t as common as smoking a joint every once in a while, and it is a little bit of a stretch.  But this is funny only until you hear what he could be faced with for his ‘crime’, a jail term of up to ten years and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh.

The laws are not really easy even on a person who is caught smoking a joint. It could mean a minimum of six months in jail and a fine of Rs. 10,000.

Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, any person found cultivating a cannabis plant is faced with rigorous imprisonment up to ten years, and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh. 

A person who produces, manufactures, possesses, sells, purchases, transports, imports or exports inter-State or even uses cannabis, and if the quantity confiscated is less than 1kg, can face a jail term of up to six months.

Following the arrest of the 25-year-old musician, many have asked – are our laws on weed too harsh? Does the young chap really need to face the music for growing some weed on his terrace and smoking up?

It is true that our laws are strict. Under Indian laws, possession of any quantity of marijuana is illegal. Technically, even if a few scraps of marijuana are found in your denim pockets during a police raid, you can be booked and jailed on conviction.

The NDPS act was enacted in 1985 by the Rajiv Gandhi government under pressure from the West which had just then started waging a war on drugs and building international pressure towards it. Until then, Indian laws on cannabis were quite lenient.

On the back of several states in the US legalizing the consumption of recreational marijuana, there have been murmurs about legalizing marijuana in India too. It was the West which forced countries like India into strong legislation against drugs in the 1980s, and ironically now developments in the West are changing our mindset about weed. 

There is a Change.org petition and media houses have raised the question in the public domain. Even an elected Member of Parliament from Odisha has come out against the ban and said that it is elitist. There have been several reasons brought up to legalize weed.

Are we then ready to legalize recreational weed?

Narcotics law enforcement officers say that an incident like the one in Chennai is quite rare, and youngsters who are caught with small quantities of marijuana are often let off with a warning. There are, as we know from anecdotal evidence, cases of police officers taking a small bribe in return for letting people go, but cases are not always registered.

In fact, the law too has a loophole, as this article points out. If you are carrying leaves and seeds of the marijuana plant, then you are not in trouble. But in spite of this, cops say they need the law.

Officials say that while there is leniency in the implementation of the law, it helps the police to keep the fear of punishment alive. “Now even 15-year-old kids are doing grass. If we legalize it, then they will soon get bored of it and escalate to more dangerous chemical drugs early in life. We have to avoid that. We don’t know the consequences of legalization of marijuana,” says a drug enforcement officer, adding that even in the US there have been voices which say the legalization of marijuana has not been a success.

Even so, to think that a bunch of youngsters, with no intent to sell, can go to jail for 10 years for having a few pots of potted marijuana comes across as draconian, even if the law is implemented only rarely. 

A law is faulty even if one person has to suffer unfairly because of it. Perhaps time has come to make the laws more lenient, and differentiate between production and sale of marijuana as a trade and possession of marijuana for personal consumption. Even in the Chennai case, it seems that there was no intent to sell the marijuana from the pots, it was for personal consumption. When there is no harm to another person, does a ‘criminal’ have to be dealt with such severity?