Will India become the next cannabis trailblazer?

India’s capital city New Delhi is among the top in terms of cannabis consumption according to new research from ABCD, consuming around 38.3 tons of marijuana in 2018 alone.

The country ranks third in the top 10 weed smoking destinations, coming in after Karachi and New York, despite the laws surrounding cannabis being confusing.

Mumbai also makes it in the top 10
which begs the question, is India capitalising on the amount of cannabis
consumers they have within their 1.3 billion population?

Cannabis in India has been used since for
at least 4,000 years, and is described in sacred Hindu texts (The Vedas) as one
of five sacred plants and that a guardian angel lived within its leaves.

The Vedas called cannabis a source of
happiness, a joy giver and a bringer of freedom. During this time cannabis was
also smoked daily at devotional services and religious rituals.

Cannabis is considered ‘partially’ legal
in India, with a different legal status being outlined for the hemp plant and
cannabis itself.

The most commonly consumed version of cannabis in India is ‘charas’, which is a dark type of resin that resembles hashish. Interestingly it is regulated in India under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 (NDPS).

‘No evil results’

Contrastingly, in 1894 an Indo-British
study
undertaken by The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission found that the moderate use of
hemp drugs was “practically attended by no evil results at all”, “produces no
injurious effects on the mind” and “no moral injury whatever”.

The commission found that suppressing
the use of ‘bhang’ (an edible cannabis preparation) would be unjustifiable as its
use is an ancient practice. It also has some religious use among Hindus, that
it is harmless in moderation, and even that alcohol causes more harm.

Up until the 1980s, when the
legislation came into fruition, ganja, charas and bhang were freely available
and used, in some cases they were sold from government-owned shops.

According to India’s murky regulatory
and legal framework, charas and ganja production is illegal, while the
production of cannabis products with seeds and leaves is legal, with various
states having their own laws on banning or restricting use. 

The law in India does not recognise
the leaves of the cannabis plant as a narcotic and allow the leaves that grow
naturally in the wild to be harvested.

Seeds and leaves create a popular
drink in India called bhang, which is typically consumed around the annual Holi
festival in march, and has been used in food and drink since as early as 1000BC
in ancient India.

The god, Shiva is often associated with cannabis – particularly the bhang drink.

Shiva – Lord of Bhang

Legend says that Shiva fell asleep
under a leafy plant on a hot day and when he awoke, his curiosity led him to
try the leaves of the plant and, on becoming instantly rejuvenated, he made the
plant his favourite food and became known as the Lord of Bhang.

Alongside the plant’s historical roots
in India, cannabis was explored medicinally in 1000 BC within ancient Ayurvedic
texts where cannabis indica is mentioned as being used for pain relievers,
aphrodisiacs, anxiety, rabies and many other ailments.

Cashing in on the cannabis crop

India’s economy has been losing steam
over the past year, exemplified by several top companies including Maruti
losing traction in the stock market.

With this in mind, the country needs
to think innovatively to spur life back into its flailing economy.

Canada and several states in the US
took the bold step to legalise cannabis. While this may seem like a brash
decision to many, it has resulted in significant economic gain for a number of
states with the entire market expected to be worth $47.3
billion annually by 2024
in North America.

If India began to capitalise on their
nation’s rampant weed use, it could well be a catalyst for spurring immense
economic growth.

The price of cannabis in India is
particularly cheap in comparison to other global competitors, with a gram being
as inexpensive as $4.38 in Delhi and $4.57 in Mumbai, ranking 10th and 11th in
the worlds cheapest weed rating.  

Nonetheless, if cannabis was legalised
and taxed by the government, Delhi could net around $101.2 million or Rs 727
Crore as of today’s exchange rate, if the plant was taxed in the same way as
the most commonly sold cigarette brand in India.

Another factor would be if they
legally exported it to other nations where it was legal, like the US and
Canada. As the living wage in India is far lower than in the west, the cost of
production would be far lower, meaning that the potential mark-up in exporting
would be much greater than if it was sold domestically.

It could also be a totally unique
selling point as cannabis products produced in the Kashmiri region of India and
Pakistan are totally different to anywhere else in the world due to its
mountainous yet warm climate, enabling the plant to naturally flourish.

The plant is indigenous to and
originates from central Asia and the upper south Asia region therefore is found
growing in abundance within India, growing wild throughout the Himalayan
foothills and adjoining plains, from Kashmir in the west to Assam in the east.

Punishments for the plant

The famous case
of a British backpacker being arrested for weed possession in a Mumbai airport
made the headlines a decade ago. He was slapped with a 10-year sentence before
being extradited back to the UK.

Under section 20 of the NDPS Act1985,
possession of small quantities of charas, hashish and ganja can earn
individuals a penalty of ten thousand rupees or a jail term of six months to a
year.

It raises the question: How much of
India’s resources are being wasted in terms of law enforcement and imprisoning
cannabis consumers, and how much would be saved if cannabis was decriminalised
or even legalised
?

Although making cannabis illegal in
India is seen to restrict use, as is the same in other countries, illegality of
substances drives the black market, and the charas black market internationally
continues to be a big problem.

Legalising cannabis could create a new
cash crop for the region with a potentially high revenue stream and generate
new employment for thousands of farmers and pull the economy back out of the
soil.

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