Marijuana or Cannabis sativa was declared a banned substance in India in 1985, through an Act of Parliament. More than three decades later in its latest avatar today it is a legally tradable commodity to do business with in some of the states of America. In India the ban is still in force but rarely strictly enforced.
Highs and lows
In fact, Marijuana has its moments of both highs and lows. Public opinion in India is divided on legalising the free and unbridled use of the plant, whose leaves, seeds, stems and even roots are consumed by users for getting that ‘high’. The ‘high’ is mainly caused by one of the compounds found in the Marijuana plant, tetrahydrocannibinol or THC.
Ironically, largely under pressure from the western countries, use of Marijuana either as an entertainment weed or medicinal plant that grows widely in north, northeast and south of India was banned in 1985 by the then Rajiv Gandhi government through an Act. The ban came amid reports of increasing cases of addiction of youths to the easily available substance.
In India’s context, before 1985 Marijuana had been widely in use for ages as Ganja or grass smoke by common public along with its other variants such as Hashish or Charas and Bhang. Particularly, Bhang is a commonly used entertainment substance. It is mixed with sweets, snacks or a mock-tail of dry-fruits and milk and consumed across large parts of India even today during the Holi festivities.
In India, the ban on the use of Marijuana has been in force under the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances or NDPS Act. It is an offence to keep Marijuana, punishable with a jail term of 10 years or more depending on the gravity of the offence. But the effectiveness and necessity of such a law has always been questioned and debated by both law enforcing agencies, scientists and medical professionals.
For, some reasons or other, easy availability of Marijuana along the roadside, near fields, in garden, in fact, has made a mockery of the law itself. Every year in the month of August-September as ‘Kawarias’- devotees of Hindu God Shiva – start their long pilgrimage on foot in Meerut, Western Uttar Pradesh to Hardwar on the banks of river Ganges in Uttarakhand, an overgrowth of cannabis vegetation welcome them on both sides of the road.
It is quite common for Kawarias to consume Marijuana in course of their long pilgrimage. They claim the weed helps them keep their energy level intact during the long journey on foot. Many term Marijuana Shiva’s ‘gift’ to His devotees. In an interview to English daily The Times of India on August 6, 2015, former Narcotics Commissioner of India Romesh Bhattacharji made a strong pitch for de-criminalisation of Marijuana.
Bhattacharji contended that easy availability of Marijuana weed and its widespread presence had rendered the NDPS Act obsolete and hence there was no point punishing people for using the substance. Some experts in legislative matters blame the surge in use and peddling of more harmful drugs such as smack on the ban on Marijuana. Peddlers can earn ten times more by selling deadly drugs than cannabis with same level of risks involved.
Safer than alcohol & tobacco
Amid talks of alleged ineffectiveness of the ban on Marijuana in India, votaries of de-criminalising the use of the toxic grass argue that it was a lesser evil than alcohol or tobacco abuse. A section of medical professionals maintain that Marijuana is safer to use than alcohol as a gentle mood changing relaxant. Unlike alcohol that makes a person aggressive and hit the lever, cannabis depresses the nervous system with no long-term side effects on the health of its users. However, long abuse of the grass is said to cause behavioural problems.
AIDS, Cancer treatment
As per some reports smoking of Marijuana weed is also said to be helpful in treating Alzheimer’s. As a medicine it is especially effective in the treatment of cancer and AIDS. Marijuana is used to treat poor appetite of AIDS patients and vomiting due to cancer chemotherapy.
With positives seemingly over weighing negatives, a section of entrepreneurs in the US see great business opportunity in Marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. In India, perception of the authorities on the toxic grass, however, remains unchanged. Also, no recent instances of any legal actions against Marijuana abuse has been reported. Of late, there has been a perceptible change in public attitude towards legalising its use.
$4 billion business
In the US, a shift in people’s attitude towards Cannabis (19 states have legalised use of Marijuana for medical purposes) has encouraged a section of start-ups to promote its use for medical and other recreational purposes and turn it into a successful business venture. Marijuana business in the US has today touched over $4 billion mark.
The current medical Marijuana market is the US is worth $1.7 billion. The number is likely to reach $8.9 billion in the next five years. However, the illegal market is valued at $18 billion. In 2009 nearly 858,408 persons were arrested for Marijuana related violations.
Long term side effects
However, prolonged use of Marijuana has its own side effects. There has not been any major increase in the number of users of Marijuana over the last one decade. But there has been a clear rise in number of young Marijuana addicted patients coming to de-addiction centres for the treatment of their behavioural abnormality, insomnia, distraction, slow reflex action, etc. And, that may be a bad news for the proponents of the legalising use of the intoxicating grass.
The good Marijuana versus bad Marijuana debate is unlikely to see any early closure. Moderation could be the name of the game when it comes to the use of Marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. But when it comes to removing legal restriction on Marijuana use, it may still be a long way to go!