"It's “high time” that cannabis should be legalized in India. India has been following a zero-tolerance policy against any cannabis derivative (bhang being an exception) since 1985 and possession of any such substance is deemed illegal and is punishable by law. A debate that has been going on for a while now needs to be addressed on a legal scale. Given that we now have set precedents from countries all over the globe on how marijuana legalization would fair practically and the uncertainty revolving around the adverse effects has been narrowed. I will guide you down the road where step by step, we discuss multiple benefits this “plant of joy” (as described in ‘Vedas’) brings to the table, what challenges the final destination of legalizing it poses to us and how they could be handled.
Post pandemic there has been a change in perspective in any step taken by the authorities. Keeping that angle in mind, legalization of Marijuana is more than relevant at this stage. People have lost jobs; the government has an economic burden on itself. Basically, the whole county is in dire need of an industry that can provide jobs as well as the required economic boost. Marijuana has already proven itself a game-changer in this respect. Uganda has a cannabis industry worth 3 billion dollars and the South African industry is set to harness a 1.9 billion dollars legal industry that will create 25000+ jobs and even attract foreign investors to the country. Moreover, the legal cannabis market of Canada is expected to reach 8.62 billion CAD by 2026. In India, considering the amount of population this industry has an unlimited potential our government could tap onto.
The post-COVID world has been repeatedly compared to the great depression of 1929 by renowned economists around the world. One of the notable events during the great depression was the legalization of alcohol in America. The country was in urgent need of a new source of tax revenue and the American government decided to overlook the harms of Alcohol and legalized its consumption and sale. Now that we have a similar situation at our hand; how does the legalization of weed pose an issue? This brings us to the inevitable question that “Is weed more harmful than alcohol?” and scientifically + statistically speaking; not at all. A study published in Scientific Reports in January 2015 found that the mortality risk associated with marijuana was approximately 114 times less than that of alcohol. No one ever died from weed overdose while 3 million deaths were annually reported from alcohol consumption worldwide. In addition to that weed has neuroprotective properties. A study in 2009 showed that people who use marijuana along with alcohol as compared to people who only take alcohol had less damage to the white matter in the brain. In short, weed has significantly fewer and milder long-term effects as compared to alcohol.
To understand why cannabis should be legalized in India, a deeper dig needs to be taken into its history in India. Cannabis has been in this culture since ancient times and holy scriptures like Vedas do nothing but praise this plant. This does not mean one should take up his/her faith in religion as a basis for deciding the legality status of marijuana. In fact, the legality of bhang which is a derivative of marijuana under religious pretexts is one of the most irrational and ironical laws in India which forms it base through a loophole in NCB’s definition of illegal substances. This poses a whole new debate on how any logical argument on cannabis has not been deemed substantial by the law but have not questioned the sale of bhang to maintain religious stability.
Coming back to the point, the ancient presence of cannabis in India just indicates that it never posed any hurdles in the progress of India as a country. Up until 1985, any cannabis product was legal in India but criminalized it when America started its campaign of strict drug intolerance. This clearly indicates that criminalization of marijuana was a mere result of western pressure rather than a means to end any hurdle or problem. Moreover, studies have showed that cannabis use has no correlation with a country’s development and progress in any sector. And now that when 11 states in America itself have legalized cannabis consumption, it’s time India reconsiders it’s stand on this issue.
Another topic that needs to be addressed is the taboo and myths revolving around cannabis which have prevented it from getting the popular support of the masses. In a democratic country, this becomes a major factor in the discussion of any controversial issue. The majority of people believe that weed is a hard drug. Weed use is compared to heroin and cocaine use in many areas. Many southern region societies have forced people to go to rehabilitation when caught using marijuana and have then been outcasted from the society. In reality, cannabis has minimal or no withdrawal symptoms. Cannabis addiction is extremely rare and on top of that, it has a psychological dependence rather than biological dependence i.e., one feels the urge to experience the “high” again as compared to cigarettes or drugs like cocaine where the body demands a regular dosage of particular substances. The most important fear of the masses is if usage of mild drugs a bridge connecting them to hard drugs but majority of cannabis users have admitted to never feel any urge to try hard drugs and have even claimed it helping them to overcome nicotine and alcohol addiction.
Talking out this issue practically, 31 million Indians consume cannabis derivatives at least once per year regardless of their legal status. It won’t be wrong to say that cannabis derivatives like weed and hash are now illegal only on paper. Also, little or no effort is being taken by authorities to track the illegal cannabis industry in India. The most they do is randomly catch small-scale farmers selling weed in their local regions for a living while the rich and large-scale vendors are overlooked as this industry is quite widespread. This not only amounts to the irrelevance of laws related to weed consumption but also discrimination as well as racial bias towards the poor and downtrodden communities. In short legal check is much better than half-hearted criminalization and given that eradication of such substances requires a revolution of contraband usage in the county, prohibition does nothing but worsen the situation on the ground level. If the government regulates the sale of such substances, there will be a reduction in crimes related to the illegal cannabis market and also provide the government with a new and surplus source of revenue.
The millennials always fight for an informed choice rather than restrictions. This also connects to the modern psychology of how the thrill of doing something illegal is nothing alien to this generation. Moreover, not much education is available on how and to what extent one should use cannabis which leads to abuse of this mild drug by teenagers. Legalizing might help them make an informed choice rather than an adrenaline rush-based decision. It will also help reduce drug stigma which has been as fatal as drug addiction to society. Portugal effectively decriminalized possession of any drug in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, so long as the amount does not exceed a ten-day personal supply. Since then, drug issues in the country have been treated more as medical concerns than criminal justice issue. Among Portuguese adults, there are three drug overdose deaths for every 1,000,000 citizens. Comparable numbers in other countries range from 10.2 per million in the Netherlands to 44.6 per million in the UK, all the way up to 126.8 per million in Estonia.
“The Marijuana Policy Project, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, Study from the Center's for Disease Control (CDC) all found out that in the states that have legalized the use of marijuana have confirmed an 11-12% drop in the use of marijuana by teenagers”
One of the major arguments against legalization of marijuana is its potential of becoming a coping mechanism. Boldly speaking, so does alcohol. In fact, cigarettes and tobacco products are mostly used by people to overcome stress. The point is, the problem does not lie in these substances but the general awareness regarding usage of contraband in the country and we have already discussed how prohibition isn’t the right approach for this.
Alcohol is available in the market in form of beer, whiskey, gin etc. All of these forms have varying amounts of alcohol content in them. Taking this analogy, if bhang is available in the market for sale saying it has low THC content, then a derivative with higher THC content should not be alienated irrationally but be discussed logically. One should not overlook this issue even if he/she is not a cannabis user because we argue for what is illogical, not for what suits our interests or choices.