Marijuana, also popularly known as weed is a psychoactive drug obtained from the Cannabis sativa plant. It is commonly used for medicinal and recreational purposes. It comes in a variety of forms including charas or hashish from the resins of the plant, ganja from its flowering and fruiting tops (excluding seeds and leaves) and bhang which is any food or drink that has been infused with cannabis paste. Hemp for industrial purposes is also extracted from the Cannabis plant.
In 1961, the international treaty Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs categorized cannabis as a hard drug. According to the final draft –
“Cannabis” means the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops) from which the resin has not been extracted, by whatever name they may be designated.
This excluded bhang from the definition of cannabis hence its prevalent use and consumption during festivals like Holi. This convention gave India 25 years to curb the recreational use of hard drugs. The National Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 was enacted towards the end of this period. It maintained the same definition of “cannabis”, excluding bhang from its purview:
“cannabis (hemp)” means:
a. charas, that 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;
b. ganja, that is, the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops), by whatever name they may be known or designated; and
c. any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of cannabis or any drink prepared therefrom;
Thus, the production and sale of cannabis resins and flowers was banned by the NDPS while still allowing the use of seeds and leaves under state regulation.
At the forefront of the effort to legalize weed is Viki Vaurora, the founder of the Great Legalization Movement India who on 12 December 2017 wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the members of the Parliament advocating to legalize cannabis and hemp for medicinal and industrial purposes. The Prime Minister’s Office in response notified the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to look into the potential benefits of cannabis in February 2018. In July 2019, the Delhi High Court agreed to hear a petition filed by the Great Legalization Movement Trust, challenging the ban on cannabis. The public litigation argues that grouping cannabis with other chemical drugs under the NDPS Act is “arbitrary, unscientific and unreasonable”.
The classification of marijuana as a hard drug is not entirely accurate. Hard drugs are defined as addictive and capable of producing long term psychological and physiological effects. Of all the people who consume it only 9% will get addicted which is shadowed by not just other hard drugs but also alcohol with its 16% addiction rate. In fact, legalizing marijuana could actually curb addiction rates by reducing the stigma surrounding it. While cannabis smoking is said to have long term effects such as coughing, wheezing and chronic bronchitis there is no evidence that suggests the consumption of cannabis itself, or in other forms such as in edibles and vapours leads to pulmonary disorders.
Marijuana has also been called a “gateway drug” which is said to increase the probability of trying hard drugs. The main reasons for this is a desire for experimentation coupled with association with others who partake in such activities. Studies show that 45% of illegal marijuana users have taken other drugs at some point. It can be argued that legalizing it will only reinforce this trend. The real gateway drugs however are introduced to us in a much more accessible form. Nicotine found in tobacco is an extremely common example and in fact makes users susceptible to cocaine addictions. It should also be noted that according to a report only 2% of people using both cannabis and tobacco used cannabis before tobacco, making it the much greater concern in this regard.
The greatest argument in favor of legalizing marijuana are its far-reaching health benefits. These include:
-Relief of chronic pain such as in patients with multiple sclerosis
-Increased lung capacity
-Regulation and prevention of diabetes
-Alleviation of anxiety
Marijuana also helps in the treatment of certain cancers, autism, ADHD and depression.
It is also used recreationally as it causes higher sensory perception, laughter, increased appetite and altered perception of time.
An economic argument for legalization can also be made. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, India accounted for about 6% of the world’s cannabis herb seizures (200 tonnes) which in 2017 increased by 20% to 353 tonnes. If weed was taxed at the same rate as the most popular cigarette in each city, New Delhi could raise up to Rs 725 crore while Mumbai could raise Rs. 641 crores. The increased use of industrial hemp will also create farming jobs as well as affect the consumer economy as it can be used in the production of paper, clothing, food and beverages and beauty and skincare products. Currently in India due to the illegal production and distribution of marijuana, it is often adulterated or spiked to increase its weight while selling or to mask its poor quality. Consumption of such adulterated marijuana can have unpredictable ill effects on the body and is extremely harmful. It is much more beneficial to legalize and systematize the distribution of marijuana so that users aren’t affected adversely due to illegal consumption.
In conclusion, several factors must be considered to determine whether the systematic production and distribution of marijuana would be plausible in the long run. It is seen that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. The petition by the Great Legalization Movement is yet to go to court. And thus, the wait for the legalization of marijuana continues.
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— Commentary on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961: Paragraph I, subparagraph (b).Commentary on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
— Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (India), Chapter I, Section 2.iii.
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