It is 35 years since cannabis was criminalised in India under the aegis of a US-driven war against drug crime. For several centuries, before the Indian government acted under the influence of Western agenda setting, Indians have been consuming cannabis products, mentioned even in early texts, for medical and recreational use. A 2019 Union social justice ministry report says a phenomenal 1.3 crore people use cannabis in its illegal forms (ganja and charas) – apart from 2.2 crore users for bhang, which is legal.
Putting such a huge population of cannabis users in constant fear of criminalisation under the stringent Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act is not just inhuman, it is also contrary to Indian cultural precepts that accepted cannabis use. A recent Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy study notes several aspects of the ban including driving sales underground, leading to dangerous adulteration and boosting more potent psychoactive drugs. Ironically, many US states and countries like South Africa and Canada have legalised marijuana for personal use, while bans continue to stick in slow-to-react India.
Large hauls of cannabis seized post-lockdown is proof that bans and over legislation don’t work, especially when there is public demand. In 2018, a whopping four lakh kgs of ganja was seized. Such massive production is surely not a sign of deterrence. Besides, over 60% narcotics cases involve personal use rather than trafficking or production. Instead of choking overburdened police and courts with thousands of cannabis cases, there is a strong case for cash strapped governments regulating cannabis production, sale and use. In two years after legalisation in January 2018, California has netted $1 billion in revenue receipts from marijuana. With a nationalist government mindful of traditional cultures and strongly betting on ease of doing business, it is time to let go of overzealous, impractical, ineffective policies.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.