Should marijuana be legalised?

The banning of marijuana has been a sweeping action, depriving people of the good things it has to offer

GKNN
Srinagar, Publish Date: Aug 22 2017 10:37PM | Updated Date: Aug 22 2017 10:37PM
Should marijuana be legalised?File Photo

The banning of marijuana has been a sweeping action, depriving people of the good things it has to offer

 

Tathagata Satpathy

 

In the Indian context, marijuana is mostly considered as being of recreational use, but it is not just that. Recreational use is probably true for not more than 5%; for the rest, it has medicinal purposes. The cannabis plant has tremendous amount of medicinal value and its potential for industrial usage can hardly be overstated. China is investing a few billion dollars in developing different strains of the marijuana plant towards several objectives. It has proper factories for processing marijuana. Many countries have developed fabrics. It has unlimited usage in diverse fields, including in the field of semiconductors.

A potential cash crop

The cannabis plant is something natural to India, especially the northern hilly regions. It has the potential of becoming a cash crop for poor marginal farmers. If proper research is done and cultivation of marijuana encouraged at an official level, it can gradually become a source of income for poor people with small landholdings. That is one part. The other part is, even if you are growing paddy, you can grow marijuana on the margins.

India should ideally focus on marijuana’s medicinal use. It is known to help people with eye ailments, cancer, and joint pain. Incidentally, China is also doing a lot of research on marijuana for cancer cure. Marijuana does not cure cancer but it reportedly stops cancer from spreading.

The alcohol lobby, like the cigarette lobby, is very powerful and it would obviously not like natural intoxicants like weed to be made available legally and easily for the poor, as this would render weed cheaper than alcohol. Alcohol destroys the health and economy of families. Ideally one should not be using any intoxicant. No drugs at all. But I wish to allay fears that marijuana is a gateway drug. By itself, it is not an intoxication that is habit-forming. I am willing to admit that I have used it myself and I could quit it whenever I wanted. I was never addicted to it anyway. I am not addicted to anything except coffee.

So this banning of marijuana, I think, has been a sweeping action depriving people of the good things it has to offer. Back then, pressures from the U.S., which is now legalising marijuana, forced us to conform. Now, several states in the U.S. have legalised pot. In fact, a company called American Green has bought a small township (Nipton, California) and wants to make it a ‘smart ganja’ township. The townsfolk will get fabrics, medicines, as well as smokable marijuana.

Time to make it legal

In Odisha, where weed is still legal, people can buy marijuana for recreational use. The elderly people in my constituency congregate every Monday evening and do a puja called the Trinath Mela. They sit under a big tree and pray to the three supreme beings and smoke ganja in the open. It is a custom that has been in existence for hundreds of years; I see no reason for making it illegal.

Laws should be made to suit people so that they do not break the law to maintain their lifestyle. Laws should weave around an existing lifestyle, not obstruct it. Or else laws will be broken. If you encourage people in their normal day-to-day life to break certain laws, the sanctity of laws breaks down.

Tathagata Satpathy is a Biju Janata Dal MP representing Dhenkanal, Odisha

As told to Anuradha Raman

 

     

Cannabis is poisonous for both the soul and mind. It creates a false world of pleasure

Arshad Hussain

Narender was a truck driver and a regular cannabis user. He looked forward to his trip to Srinagar to buy high-quality cannabis. His wish was granted. He rejoiced and told his friends that he could hear the colours — red, green, white and all — talk to him. He drove back to Punjab in a haze. The beauty of National Highway 1A mesmerised him. The mountain ranges swam in front of his eyes. He imagined himself to be flying till he emerged out of the Jawahar Tunnel. Instead of taking a right, he took a left turn and this time he actually flew in the air. His vehicle rolled down the 200-metre gorge and he died instantly.

Amin is a chronic patient at a psychiatric hospital. He has been there for the last 15 years, largely staying as an in-patient and discharged occasionally. He was admitted in 2002 when he had turned into a vegetable — mute, dumb and oblivious to the world. His history revealed that he had started taking cannabis at 13. He would take it once a while and then the frequency increased till he started taking it daily. A time came when he lived to have cannabis. His personality started deteriorating. He would occasionally turn violent as well. He also stopped taking care of himself, locking himself in a room, even defecating and urinating there. That is when he was brought to the hospital where he was diagnosed with disorganised schizophrenia. It was too late to retrieve him — he did not respond to the treatment.

Backdoor entry to crime

The fact remains that cannabis is a highly addictive substance, produces dependence, and is toxic for the brain. It is the gateway to harder substances. The countries which legalised cannabis are increasingly realising that in the garb of cannabis, they have legalised drug warlords and their business. They have increased the vulnerabilities of the youth. The lure of escape from the everyday world that cannabis offers is irresistible for many people.

The legalisation of cannabis in cities like Amsterdam led to an increase in crime, from mugging to prostitution. The legalisation of cannabis is achieving nothing other than glorifying drug lords as businessmen who earn revenue after playing havoc with the social and mental health of societies. In a society where people are just getting literate, the danger posed by cannabis and other drugs can be devastating for the country’s health, especially the youth.

Severe health effects

The debate on legalisation of cannabis is erroneous as we compare it with alcohol and nicotine, the two biggest killers. Cannabis is poisonous for both the soul and mind. It creates a false world of pleasure which is not in our control and for which we have to pay a heavy price in the form of amotivational syndrome, psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in vulnerable individuals.

It has also been seen that the places where cannabis is easily available are scenes of many a heinous crime. Besides, cannabis is the gateway to substance dependence history for many patients.

For a cannabis-free society

We have had similar debates when we legalised smoking nicotine. But its detrimental fallout is now playing out right before our eyes. Now all health budgets are spent minimising the damage. I hope and pray for a society where happiness is derived from humour and friendship, social interactions and bonding, altruism and philanthropy, sports and adventures and not make-believe pleasures with a massive toll on health. Let us make our world healthier for our posterity and let us pledge for a cannabis-free society.

Arshad Hussain is with the Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Srinagar

     

Criminalisation of a commodity as widespread as cannabis makes little economic, social or legal sense

Tripti Tandon

India’s affinity to psychoactive substances is centuries old. Documented references to cannabis date back to 2000-1400 BC, with texts describing it as “sacred grass”. Medical use of cannabis is recorded in books like the Susruta Samhita. To date, bhang, ganja and charas — products of the cannabis plant — are enlisted in the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 for use in Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani medicine.

What the law says

The British colonial administration adopted a ‘licence and tax’ approach whereby bhang, ganja and charas were classified as “intoxicating drugs” and regulated under excise laws. Post-Independence, a provision calling for the “prohibition of manufacture, sale or transportation or consumption of intoxicating liquors” was proposed as part of the Directive Principles of State Policy. It was extended to ‘drugs’ after a Member of the Constituent Assembly remarked about the “evil of opium prevailing in the country”. There was no mention, let alone discussion, on cannabis. Interestingly, the demand to add tobacco alongside intoxicating drinks and drugs was ignored. Consequently, Article 47 of the Constitution reads: “The State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”

Importantly, the policy of prohibition is encouraged in relation to substances that are “injurious to health”. Many in the scientific community doubt if, and to what extent, cannabis meets this threshold. In 1997, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi published a report titled ‘Cannabis, Health Damage? Legislative Options’, which found cannabis use to be less harmful than certain licit substances like alcohol and tobacco.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 criminalised the cannabis plant, ganja and charas but not bhang. Although overtly punitive, the Act allows State governments to “permit and regulate” cannabis for medical, scientific and, to some extent, industrial uses. Few States, however, have made use of their regulatory powers. As a result, people continue to be arrested and jailed for the possession and use of cannabis. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 67% of the cases registered under the NDPS Act in 2015 were for ganja and charas.

Cannabis was made illegal because the international community required us to do so. Now, as more and more countries are questioning and moving away from the ‘war on drugs’, India retains the dubious distinction of having the death penalty for subsequent drug offences, including for hashish (charas). Worse still, a recent public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court seeks even stricter measures against drug use and trafficking. It would do well for the parties concerned to look at data, including a fact-finding study by the British Home Office in 2014, which found “no obvious relationship between the toughness of a country’s enforcement against drug possession, and levels of drug use in that country”.

There is a growing body of research into cannabinoids, principally tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, and their efficacy in treating symptoms of certain medical conditions. India’s national NDPS policy, however, categorically states: “Cultivation of cannabis will not be permitted given its limited proven uses for medical purposes.”

Going against global trends

Criminalisation of a commodity as popular and widespread as cannabis makes little economic, social or legal sense. Many countries are rightly experimenting with legislative models of decriminalisation as well as legalisation of cannabis, in order to break the connection between organised crime and the growing number of law-abiding people who use cannabis.

Tripti Tandon is Deputy Director of Lawyers Collective, an NGO working on human rights issues

COURTESY: The Hindu