Cannabis: Legal or Illegal? – NorthEast Today

On 21st September at the launch of the “Start-Up Manipur” Scheme, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh cited two reasons for the legalisation of Cannabis in Manipur. The first one is, it will be used for medical and industrial purposes, and secondly the cultivation of the plant that grows abundantly in the state, would help boost the revenue generation of the state. However, the legalization of Cannabis has always remained a debatable topic. Mumeninaz Zaman explores more.

Cannabis, Weed, Marijuana, Ganja, Bhang or Charas whatever you name it, the bright green distinctive plant with five or seven leaflets, has been a part of the Indian subcontinent since the Vedic times and has been a part of religious rituals and festivities for millennia. From Aghoris or Sadhus puffing out Chillums to the preparation of Bhang or Thandai during festivals like Holi or Shivratri, it has been used in India for recreational, medical and spiritual purposes.

There is no denying the fact that cannabis has been used for various medical conditions like- Cancer, Arthritis, Nausea, Vomiting, Glaucoma et al. Nevertheless, the use of Cannabis has garnered mixed responses from various quarters. While a section may term it as better than booze or freedom of choice some consider it highly addictive which may lead to mental health problems like schizophrenia, anxiety and depression.

Cannabis is a drug that comes from plants called Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica and its main active elements are called Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). When smoked or eaten the THC enters the brain through the bloodstream that produces the “high” effects. On the other hand, hemp, which is a strain of the Cannabis Sativa plant is used for industrial purpose since it contains less amount of THC and higher concentrations of CBD. The hemp, which is also known as industrial hemp grows faster and is often cultivated for non-drug use. It produces fibre which is used in various commercial products like paper, textiles, clothing and construction materials.

As per UNODC reports in 2000, the use of cannabis in India was 3.2%. However, in 2019, a study conducted by the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences showed that about 7.2 million Indians had consumed cannabis within the past years.

As highlighted in 2018, a report by the United Nations-backed International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), India is one of the major hubs for the illicit drug trade. When it comes to the  Northeast, the notorious Golden Triangle shows the rampant linkages with illicit drugs. The region coincides with Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland share their border with Myanmar, and drugs are often smuggled from Myanmar into Northeast. Also, drugs illicitly cultivated in India, travel through the same route for trade.

In a bid to tackle the problem of illegal drugs the Indian government passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985. This Act prohibits a person to produce/manufacture/cultivate, possess, sell, purchase, transport, store, and/or consume any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance.

Although NDPS has banned the production and sale of Cannabis resin and flower, it permitted the use of leaves and seeds allowing the states to regulate the latter. Cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes such as making industrial hemp or for horticultural use is legal in India. The government further encourages research and cultivation of Cannabis with low THC.

NDPS allows consumption of bhang, however, various states have their own laws banning or restricting its use.

Due to favourable soil and climate India has its reasons to be a hotspot of Cannabis. The retail price of cannabis in India is relatively the lowest of any country in the world. Ganja and Bhang being local produce and having traditional implications make it a favourite destination for hippies. Odisha and Uttarakhand have already legalized the use of Cannabis. Apart from that Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur are known for the quality of the local products.

Moreover, legalising cannabis is being perceived as a new cash-crop with a revenue stream that has huge potential to boost the agrarian economy and generate employment for thousands of farmers.

The “Start-Up Manipur” is a scheme with a vision to provide the most enabling ecosystems to support and nurture start-up entrepreneurship in the State. The Manipur CM said, “Our revenue must be strong. Moreover, cannabis grows in the wild abundantly in Manipur and this can be used for extraction of hemp oil which is known for its medicinal property.” He further added that start-ups would be considered as part of this plan considering they have the potential to be a part of this industry. Adding that Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have already legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, the CM assured that he will take the matter to the centre.

So it becomes indispensable on the part of the state government as well as the centre to regularize the production in a monitored and systematic manner. However, rampant misuse by locals and tourists and illegal cultivation need to be checked before any such move is implemented.