What is legal and illegal about weed in India? A look at the NDPS Act of 1985

The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 defines India’s law around cannabis and its products.
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The high-profile drugs case connected to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput has brought several celebrities under the scanner, while making ever-sensational headlines across news channels. The case has also created renewed interest in the legalities of weed or marijuana in India. In recent days, chat messages allegedly from actors discussing procurement of cannabis products, such as hash, have been shared widely. 

The Centre’s law around cannabis in India can be found in the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (though there are various states that have their own laws around cannabis as well). The law prohibits and criminalises the sale, possession, transportation and cultivation of cannabis in certain forms in India. 

The NDPS Act, when it comes to cannabis, includes:

Charas, which is “the separated resin, in whatever form, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant and also includes concentrated preparation and resin known as hashish oil or liquid hashish”

Ganja, “the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops)”;

And “any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of cannabis or any drink prepared therefrom”.

Notably, the Act specifically prohibits the sale and production of cannabis resin and flowers, while the use of seeds and leaves is allowed. 

Apart from the NDPS Act, states have the power to draft their own laws on cannabis. Section 10 of the NDPS Act allows states to permit and regulate “the cultivation of any cannabis plant, production, manufacture, possession, transport, import inter-State, export inter-State, sale, purchase consumption or use of cannabis (excluding charas)”. For example, Uttarakhand became the first state in India to allow commercial cultivation of hemp in 2018. Another state law is the Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act which outlaws the purchase, consumption and possession of ganja as well as bhang.

What happens if you’re caught with weed? 

Section 20 of the NDPS Act talks about the punishment for manufacturing, possessing, selling, purchasing, transporting, importing and exporting inter-state or using the manufactured drug or any preparation containing any manufactured drug.

  • For contravention involving a small quantity, there is rigorous imprisonment for a term that may extend to six months or a fine that may extend to Rs 10,000, or both 

  • If it involves a quantity less than commercial quantity but greater than a small quantity, rigorous imprisonment may extend to 10 years with a fine that may extend to Rs 1 lakh 

  • For cases involving commercial quantities, rigorous imprisonment will not be less than 10 years, but may extend to 20 years. A fine of not less than Rs 1 lakh (which can be extended to two lakhs) may also be levied. 

For cannabis and cannabis resin (charas and hashish) small quantities to commercial quantities is defined as 100 grams to one kilogram.

Additionally, the Juvenile Justice Act provides separate rules for minors found in possession, consuming or selling cannabis. So, those below 18 cannot be prosecuted under the NDPS Act.

But is bhang legal?

Bhang, which is made using the leaves of the cannabis plant, has close ties to the worship of Shiva in Hinduism as well as the celebration of the festival Holi across India in the form of a drink called ‘thandai’. The sale and consumption of bhang is permitted under law in India due to the NDPS Act’s definition of cannabis. 

While the NDPS Act prohibits the sale and production of cannabis resin and flowers, the use of seeds and leaves is allowed. Further, section 14 of the Act makes a “special provision” for cannabis, where the government may allow cultivation of a cannabis plant “for industrial purposes only of obtaining fibre or seed or for horticultural purposes.”

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