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The highs and lows of consumption of cannabis in India

Weed has been consumed in India for around 5000 years, with its origins dating back to 1700
BCE. It has been referred to by many names over the years, including Marijuana, Charas,
Ganja, Bhang, etc., but the one thing that has kept it popular with the general public is the
high it produces.
However, the topic of marijuana’s legality has been up for discussion for a while now. The
advocates argue that it should be decriminalised due to its amazing medical qualities, while
opponents of legalisation emphasise the drug’s long-term health-harming consequences. Due
to the conflicting evidence on marijuana’s impact on health, the government has chosen not to
lift the ban.

What Is Cannabis?

In general, weed is a greenish-grey material derived from a mixture of dried Cannabis sativa
flowers. It is also known as marijuana, cannabis, herb, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, pot, and
many more slang words. For its mind-altering effects, marijuana is primarily taken by the
general public as hand-rolled cigarettes known as joints, in pipes, water pipes (also known as
bongs), or blunts (marijuana rolled in cigar wrappers). When marketed or taken as medicine,
it is usually incorporated into consumables like brownies, cookies, or chocolates. In addition,
using vaporizers to ingest it is growing in popularity.

Cannabis under the NDPS Act:

According to section 2 (3) of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 ,
cannabis refers to:

  • Charas which is the separated resin, whether in the crude or purified form, obtained
    from the cannabis plant and also includes concentrated preparation and resin known
    as hashish oil or liquid hashish.
  • Ganja is the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and
    leaves when not accompanied by the tops).
  • Any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of
    cannabis or any drink prepared from that place.

With 125 million people consuming weed in one form or another, it is one of the most
commonly used illegal drugs in the world. Being linked historically to faith and mysticism, it
has been consumed in India alone for centuries. However, the implementation of the NDPS
Act has made the sale, consumption, production, and transport of marijuana in the country
illegally.

Law related to weed in India

Until 1985, all cannabis derivatives such as marijuana, hash (charas), and bhang were legally
sold in India. Later when the US began to campaign for a worldwide law against all hard and
soft drugs following the adoption of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, India
also withstood American pressure to keep marijuana legal, given that Ganja, charas, and
bhang were a way of life in India. However, by the early 80s, American society was
struggling with drug problems and the opinions and pressure had stiffened.

After withstanding the American pressure for 25 years, India finally gave in to the demands
of its Western counterpart in 1986 by enacting the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic
Substances (NDPS) Act which clubbed marijuana with other hard drugs and criminalized it.

Despite the fact that the NDPS Act is the central law that deals with cannabis (weed or
marijuana), different states in India have their laws relating to the consumption, possession,
sale, or purchase of weed or marijuana. For instance, Uttarakhand has allowed the
commercial cultivation of hemp which is a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species and is
specifically grown for the industrial uses of its derived products.

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Recreational and Medical use of Weed

There are two kinds of cannabis/weed- one that serves a medical purpose, and the other which
is used for recreation. Medical use of the cannabis plant is said to help in the management of
diseases such as cancer, epilepsy, and sickle cell anemia, whereas, recreational cannabis is used
to intentionally change one’s state of consciousness, often producing feelings of happiness and
exhilaration. Since cannabis is banned in India, for medical or recreational use, both are banned
under Indian law. Thus, people who want to medicate with cannabis also have no legal
protection in India along with the ones who want to use it for recreational purposes.

What happens if you get caught with weed in India?

Recently, Indian businessman Ness Wadia was arrested in Japan for marijuana possession
which rekindled several debates on criminalizing cannabis consumption. Although the Indian
laws regarding cannabis consumption are not as strict as Japan’s, our laws are still harsher
than dozens of countries that consider it pointless to make criminals out of their citizens for
small quantities of pot.
Irrespective of the purpose of possession, possessing weed in India is a punishable offense
under the NDPS Act. It is a predominantly reformatory law that regulates drugs in India. It
has provisions for a graded system of punishment, which means that the quantum of
punishment would be decided based on the quantity of drug or substance involved in a case.

Punishment for Carrying Weed

According to Section 20 of the NDPS Act , holding a small quantity of weed can land you up
in jail for rigorous imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of Rs. 10,000 or both. For
weed more than a small quantity but less than the commercial quantity the punishment is
rigorous imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of Rs. 1 lakh or both. In the case of
commercial quantity, the punishment prescribed is rigorous imprisonment for up to 10 to 20
years or a fine of Rs1 to 2 lakhs or both.
For punishment, quantity has been specified as a small quantity- 1kg, commercial quantity20kg

The Ongoing Debate on Weed Legalization

With countries like Canada legalizing cannabis and various states in the US allowing medical
uses, the boom in cannabis legalization can also be seen in India. As per the industry
estimates cannabis sales could touch $15 billion in 2019 and another 10 years, the market
could be worth around $60 billion. The supporters state that the legalization of medicinal
marijuana and decriminalization in some countries has led to a significant decrease in the
black market, as people are resorting to legally purchasing marijuana for medicinal as well as
recreational use. Moreover, it is being viewed as an opportunity for countries to earn
revenues through taxation. This view was also held by Thiruvananthapuram MP Dr. Shashi
Tharoor while he vouched for legalizing cannabis in India in 2018. In 2017, before Dr.
Tharoor voiced the issue, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had also
called for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes

Whereas, on the other hand, the ones against the legalization of cannabis claim that there are
many misconceptions about cannabis. It is not accurate to say that cannabis is harmless as its
immediate effects include impairments in memory and in mental processes including ones
that are critical for driving. It is further stated that the long-term use of cannabis may lead to
the development of addiction to the substance, persistent cognitive deficit, and mental health
problems like schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. Cannabis exposure to adolescents can
also alter brain development.
In November 2019 the Delhi High Court issued a notice to Central Government in a PIL
challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions prohibiting the use of cannabis
under the NDPS Act . Although the petition did not demand the legalization of cannabis, it
sought revocation of certain provisions that prohibit the use of cannabis. It stated that only
when the United States of America had banned the substance, did the Indian government also
go ahead to ban cannabis. A recent report by the United Nations has stated that the findings
on which cannabis was banned in the USA are scientifically flawed. Following the findings
of this report 24 states in Europe, the United Kingdom, and 33 states in the US have
decriminalized the use of cannabis. However, it is urged to carefully weigh the risks and
benefits of cannabis before we follow the suit with the West.

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