Author : Diya Bijoy, Student at Mar Gregorios College Of Law, Nalanchira, Trivandrum.
Cannabis or marijuana is a drug taken from the plant Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica. It is also known by the names grass, pot, weed, hash, smoke, hooch, ganja, joint, stick, dope, herb etc. Cannabis was smoked in India from early BCs. Cannabis finds itself mentioned in ancient scriptures like Dhanavantari Nighantu, Sarnagandhara Samhita etc. Atharva Veda describes Cannabis as one of the five sacred plants on earth. According to Hindu mythology, Cannabis is Lord Shiva’s favourite food. Cannabis slows down the activities of the central nervous system. It also slows down the signals send by brain to other parts of the body. This article briefly explains the uses of cannabis and the laws that regulate cannabis.
USES OF CANNABIS
Cannabis is used for the psychotropic effects of tetrahydrocannabinol and other active chemicals which alters the user’s mood. The main forms of psychoactive cannabis are hashish, hash oil, and marijuana. It can be used by smoking, vaporizing, eating etc. Cannabis is also used for medicinal purposes. Some of its medicinal uses are regulating and preventing diabetes, helping in fighting cancer, relieving the pain in cancer patients, controlling seizures, stabilizing the moods of patients suffering depression, reducing the pain and tremors in patients suffering Parkinson’s disease, etc. The use of cannabis was legal in India till 1985. In 1985 cannabis was banned by enacting The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
India had been battling American pressure since 1961 to keep marijuana legal. Since, 1961, the US has been campaigning for a global law against all drugs, both hard and soft. By early ‘80s, American society was grappling with some drug problems and opinion had grown against the “excesses” of hippie generation. Therefore, in 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi Government buckled under the pressure and enacted a law called the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 bans marijuana. As per the Act, cannabis is a narcotic drug. The Act prohibits and criminalizes the production, distribution, manufacturing, possession, cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase and consumption of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substances.
Under the NDPS Act cannabis includes charas, the resin separated from the cannabis plant in its crude or purified form (also includes the preparations made from charas known as hashish oil or hash) and ganja, the toppings of the flowers and fruits of the plant. The Act criminalizes and prohibits the use of marijuana fruits and flowers.
However it allows the use of marijuana seeds and leaves. The leaves of cannabis are used for making bhang, which is available in the form of a drink. The NDPS Act permits the consumption of bhang and it does not include bhang in the definition of Cannabis.
IMPORTANT PROVISIONS OF THE NDPS ACT
Section 2 of the Act defines Narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Sec 2 (iii) of the act defines cannabis. Under this definition cannabis includes charas, ganja and any mixture that contain either charas or ganja. Chapter II of the Act gives the officers and authorities who are entrusted with the duty to take actions as to the prohibition and control of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substances.
Chapter III of the Act deals with prohibition, control and regulation. Sec 8(c) prohibits the production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transportation, usage, consumption, import and export of cannabis.
Sec 10 of the Act empowers the state governments to permit, control and regulate the cultivation, production, manufacture, possession, transport, import, export, sale, purchase and consumption of cannabis. Nothing under Sec 8 shall apply if the cultivation, production, manufacture, sale, purchase etc. of cannabis is taking place under the authority of the state government. According to Sec 10, Uttarakhand became the first state that allowed commercial cultivation of hemp(a variety of cannabis) in 2018. The state of Assam enacted the Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act and this Act prohibits the purchase, consumption and possession of ganja and bhang.
Sec 14 of the Act provides a special provision in relation to cannabis. It states that:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in Sec 8, Government may, by general or special order and subject to such conditions as may be specified in such order, allow cultivation of any cannabis plant for industrial purposes only of obtaining fiber or seed or for horticultural purposes.”
Chapter IV of the Act deals with the offences and penalties relating to Narcotic Drugs and psychotropic Substances and Chapter V deals with the procedure in carrying out the penalties. Sec 20 of the Act gives the punishment for contravention in relation to cannabis plant and cannabis. The punishment is in regard to the quantity of cannabis that is produced, manufactured, possessed, sold, purchased, transported, imported(inter-state) or exported(inter-state) by the offender. If the quantity is small, the offender shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment of one year or ten thousand rupees or both. If the quantity is greater than small quantity but less than commercial quantity, the offender shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend up to ten years and with fine which may extend up to one lakh rupees. If the offence involves commercial quantity then the offender shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years and may extend up to twenty years and shall also be liable to pay fine which is not less than one lakh rupees and may extend up to two lakh rupees. Small quantity and commercial quantity are the quantities specified by the central government by issuing notification in the official gazette.
The Act contains provisions to punish for the illegal exports and imports of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The Act provides for the punishment of external dealings of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances which are done without the previous authorization of the Central government.
All the offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable. Provisions for granting bail are also mentioned. The Act provides for the constitution of special courts for granting speedier remedies. Procedures to conduct search, seizure etc., are also laid down in the Act.
After the enactment the Act was amended thrice – in 1988, 2001 and 2014.
In the case Dharam Pal And Vidya sagar V State of H.P. The appellants were tried and convicted of an offence punishable under Sec 20. The appellants were sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of twenty thousand rupees as the quantity of charas recovered from them was lesser than the commercial quantity.
In Arjun Singh V State of Haryana And Others case, it was held by the High Court of Chandigarh that as far as Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act is concerned, bhang cannot be considered as cannabis. However, court also added that it is a product of cannabis plant.
MOVEMENTS TO LEGALISE CANNABIS
Movements to re-legalize cannabis was organized for the first time in 2015 by a nonprofit organization called Great Legislation Movement. In 2019 the Delhi High Court heard the public interest litigation filed by the Great Legislation Movement which questioned the ban of cannabis. The Great legislation movement argued that the ban on cannabis under the NDPS Act is “arbitrary, unscientific and unreasonable”. The organization argues that the absolute ban of cannabis should be uplifted and it should be legalized by placing reasonable restrictions. Their arguments also highlights the medical and industrial benefits of cannabis.
The petition has claimed that there are several scientific research papers, including one by the World Health Organization, that establish the medicinal benefits of the use of cannabis as well as its industrial application—extraction of fibres from the cannabis plant. It has contended that while enacting the NDPS Act, the government failed to consider cannabis’ medicinal benefits, including its effect as an analgesic, its role in fighting cancer, reducing nausea and increasing appetite in HIV patients.
BENEFITS OF LEGALIZATION OF CANNABIS
If the consumption of marijuana is moderate, it can benefit the user. Consumption of marijuana can reduce the user’s affinity to consume alcohol and tobacco. Also, it is scientifically proven that the consumption of marijuana is less harmful as compared to the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
If legalized marijuana could be a great source of revenue to the government. It will prevent the illegal trade of marijuana that exists in India. It will be a boon to the medicinal field as cannabis has a wide range of uses in the field. It will also boost up the agricultural sector if there is increase in cultivation and production of cannabis. If cannabis is produced in large quantities it can also be exported and this is yet again a good source of income.
Just because cannabis is banned it does not mean that it is not in use. There is large supply of marijuana through black market and its usage is still prevalent among youth. A study conducted in 2018 showed that Delhi is the third largest consumer of marijuana in the world after New York and Karachi. This shows that the implementation of NDPS Act is poor.
Although legalization of cannabis provides great benefits it also possess potential risks. Excessive use of cannabis can cause addiction, anxiety, and emotional outbursts. As cannabis slows down the activities of brain, it can cause dizziness, headaches etc. Therefore, cannabis is not something that should be used by children and adolescents.
Legalization should not mean absolute uplift of ban. Legalization should regulate the production and consumption of cannabis. Government should consider legalizing cannabis by prescribing minimum age of consumption, amount that can be consumed, amount to be sold etc. Legalizing cannabis by implementing strict regulations can benefit the country, the medicinal and agricultural sectors and the people at large.
 Anonymous, Why Marijuana Became Illegal in India, (Lawyered, 15 March 2017) www.lawyered.in/legal-disrupt/articles/marijuana-illegal-india/ accessed 22 October 2020
 The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, Sec 14
 Civil Writ Petition No. 844 of 2014
 Snehil Sharma, Legalization of Cannabis: Bane or Boon? (Lawinsider.in, 29 August 2020) www.lawinsider.in/legalization-of-cannabis-bane-or-boon/ accessed 29 October 2020
 Anonymous, PIL seeks legalization cannabis; HC wants to know Centre’s stand (outlook,06 November 2019) www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/amp/pil-seeks-lagalisation-of-cannabis-hc-wants-to-know-centres-stand/ accessed 29 October 2020