The word ‘cannabis’ is perceived so negatively, that individuals are barely prepared to have a healthy discussion over it – let alone legalise it. Yet, its consumption has been deeply enshrined in the Indian culture for centuries. Festivals like Holi and Shivratri are said to be incomplete without the offering of Bhaang. Based on the principles of Hindu mythology, cannabis was Lord Shiva’s favourite intoxicant, which he smoked to relax. Cannabis has been in use since the pre-historic period and is closely integrated with most of the civilizations known to have existed. Rigveda and Atharvaveda have also explicitly referred to it as one of the most sacred plants to exist. Moreover, Ayurveda also prescribes cannabis for the treatment of certain mental ailments. However, owing to the Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, there is an absolute prohibition on the cultivation, production, possession, and sale of the drug. The Act classifies a large number of psychotropic substances with an equal eye and imposes an arbitrary ban on the use of recreational cannabis.
MEDICAL IMPORTANCE OF CANNABIS
As per medical science, cannabis is a very well-respected substance, owing to several of its curing properties. Cannabinoids are chemical components present in the plant, that act on certain cells in the body, especially on the brain, inducing a pain-relieving and relaxing effect on the body, along with curing severe neurological disorders. Patients of epilepsy are often under severe discomfort, due to an overload on the brain because of a number of chemical processes running in the brain, causing an imbalance in the body. Cannabis has proven to be an effective treatment, due to the presence of a compound called epidiolex which helps in calming the mind. Moreover, research agencies FDA and CSIR have also approved CBD for the treatment of epilepsy and anaemia. It is also known for helping ease pain in case of cancer and tumour related ailments.
With progressive times and influence from the West, the Indian stance on the legalization of cannabis has evolved. Several efforts have been made by legislators in order to legalise the plant. Lawmakers like Shashi Tharoor and Maneka Gandhi have explicitly supported the legalisation of cannabis, owing to the several medicinal, social, and societal benefits it brings with it. Petitions seeking omission of ganja from the Act have been pending before courts. But due to the conservative mindset of the Indian populace, it is unlikely that the courts would approve of cannabis any soon.
LEGAL ASPECT AND STATICAL STUDY
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985 prohibits individuals from producing, manufacturing, cultivating, possessing, selling, purchasing, transporting, storing, and consuming cannabis.
Calendar 1 (Class 1) drugs are illicit on the grounds that they have high manhandle potential, no medicinal utilization, and extreme security worries; for example, Heroin, LSD, and cocaine. Marijuana is additionally included as a Class 1 tranquillizer, regardless of its legality in some states and it is utilized as a restorative medicine in some states. Many consider marijuana as a gateway towards hard drugs, but this is not a statistically justifiable notion as only 9% of those who use marijuana get severely addicted to it. On the other hand, alcohol and tobacco each have an addiction rate of 32% and 15% respectively.
The Constitution of India guarantees all its citizens, a right to live with protection of personal liberty, but such arbitrariness on behalf of the legislature curtails this freedom to live. Based on the interpretation by the judiciary, the right to life does not limit itself to mere animal existence; rather it also protects citizen’s interests, allowing them to live a life as per their enjoyment, without having to face any arbitrary restrictions. Now, each individual has a unique lifestyle. Some prefer to wake up in the morning, along with the sunrise; some prefer to sleep till afternoon, which is fine too, as nobody has the right to interfere with one’s personal life, as long as they do not harm another. Similarly, some individuals choose to use marijuana for recreation or enjoyment, whereas others do not. Over 1.5 lakh individuals die every year from car accidents, however, that does not outlaw citizens from owning cars, so there is no reason for the government to prohibit the usage of cannabis either. But due to the arbitrariness of the Act, individuals are deprived of enjoyment by the consumption of recreational cannabis.
Now, the State does have a right to impose reasonable restrictions upon individuals, for the public good. However, cannabis is not a substance that can cause much harm, that it be treated at par with hard drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. Therefore, it does not deserve to be treated in the same way. If at all harmful, it is only as much, or even less harmful than alcohol, which is an already legalized narcotic substance. As per the World Health Organization, alcohol kills at least 2.6 lakh Indians every year, but not a single death resulting from marijuana overdose has ever been reported in India. Further, marijuana is not as addicting as alcohol or tobacco, as it does not create a sudden temptation, unlike drugs like methamphetamine. Therefore, marijuana shall not be thought of as a lethal drug, but should only be looked as a mild drug that can safely be used for medicinal and recreational purposes. Since marijuana is not a substance whose consumption could lead to an imbalance within society, there is no need for the State to impose prohibitions upon cannabis in the form of reasonable restrictions. In case the legislation refuses to comply with these arguments, it may, in no way, impose an absolute blanket ban upon the consumption of marijuana by disguising the prohibition under the name of reasonable restriction.
As per the principles of common law, the sale of prohibited substances is void ab initio, and he who is indulged in such trade shall also be punished. But since cannabis is in no way a substance that shall be banned, its sale and purchase too, should not be restricted, as it is a direct blow to the freedom to practise the trade of any choice. Therefore, Section 8 of the NDPS Act is unconstitutional on the lines of Articles 19(1) and 21.
Instead of absolutely banning cannabis sale, State may regulate it by setting rules similar to the trade of alcohol and manufacture, which prescribe sales and manufacture standards, in order to capture and regularise the humongous black market for cannabis in India. Further, regularisation of its sale would discourage its consumption among minors. Based on studies conducted in countries where legalisation is in effect, it has been reported that fewer number of teenagers consume cannabis, despite its legalization and the increase in its adult consumers, since it is no more easily available in black markets. With regulations regarding production and manufacture, coupled with regular laboratory testing, consumers are less likely to ingest adulterated substances, and manufacturers are compelled to ensure quality and hygienic conditions. Further, legalisation would create a plethora of jobs in the marijuana industry and help reduce India’s unemployment rate, while also adding to the government’s tax revenue, while also giving the opportunity to people from remote regions to earn revenue. In states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, cannabis is the main form of income for a large population, but due to the prohibition on its sale, growers are compelled to pitch it at low prices in black markets.
Inspired by the nations that have already legalised the plant, several Indian lawmakers too have realised the potential of cannabis and have expressed their willingness to amend the Act by omitting ganja from the drugs prohibited in India. But owing to a lack of support in the Parliament, it is not the current priority for Indian legislation. However, cannabis had not always been prohibited in India in the form of such stringent bans. Instead, the plant was being freely consumed all over India until 1985, when India and several other countries gave in to constant pressure applied by the United States to criminalize its usage. Ironically, nearly 60% of American state legislatures are considering its decriminalisation and 11 states have already permitted its recreational usage. Several countries have legalized marijuana both medicinally and recreationally, after realising the vivid benefits it brings with it.
The legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes can also boost the nation’s GDP. Marijuana in Netherland contributes $3.2 billion with a yearly gross. Thus, complying with the present scenario with the legal aspect, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985, can be deemed to be out-dated, and it also requires numerous progressive measures in order to exclude cannabis from its long and exhaustive list of prohibited drugs.
 Section 8, The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
 WHO’s report on alcohol. https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/profiles/ind.pdf?ua=1
 Jim Dryden, “As More States Legalize Marijuana, Adolescents’ Problems with Pot Decline,” wustl.edu, May 24, 2016 https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/states-legalize-marijuana-adolescents-problems-pot-decline/.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Prateek Singh is a first-year student from National Law University, Jodhpur. He has an interest in the fields of Constitutional Law and Contract Law.
Ritik Kanoujia is a first-year student from National Law University, Jodhpur. He has an interest in the fields of Constitutional Law and Contract Law.