Cannabis has been consumed in India, especially in the Hindu religion, since centuries. The most accepted and commonly known form in which cannabis is consumed in India, is bhang. Bhang is used to make ‘Thandai’ and other edibles, which are widely available during Holi and Shivratri. Despite all of this, the question about the legality of cannabis in India occurs in the minds of many. Here, we will look at certain legal aspects of cannabis.
The NDPS Act
The central law that can help us understand the legal status of cannabis in India, is the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The possession of drugs such as cannabis is considered a criminal act in India, and can lead to serious legal repercussions.
Despite its general legal status, different states have different laws regarding the possession, consumption, and dealing of marijuana. Uttarakhand was the first state to pass a law which allows commercial cultivation of industrial hemp. Odisha, is another example of a state where weed is legal and people commonly consume it using ‘chillums’ within the state. Various hilly states are considering to propose laws which would allow controlled production of marijuana and hemp, since the cultivation does not require a lot of water. In Assam, the possession, sale, and purchase of bhang and ganja are prohibited under the Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act, 1958.
The NDPS Act, 1985 defines cannabis as the following:
• Charas, which refers to the separated resin obtained from the cannabis plant, in crude or purified form. It also includes its concentration preparation in the form of hashish oil.
• Ganja, which refers to the flowering top of the cannabis plant. This excludes the seeds and the leaves.
• Any mixture or drink of the aforementioned forms of cannabis prepared with or without neutral material. (NDPS Act, 1985:1.2.iii)
Therefore, the possession, consumption, and trade of the cannabis resin and flowers are strictly prohibited under the NDPS Act. It should be noted that the seeds and leaves are not considered as a part of the cannabis plant under the NDPS Act. By this definition of cannabis, bhang is legal since it is made out of the seeds and leaves of the plant. This is because bhang is considered to be a part of the Indian culture. However, States have the power to form and regulate their own laws and rules regarding cannabis.
Is Medicinal Cannabis Legal in India?
As mentioned above, the production and consumption of bhang is legal in India. However, since the center criminalizes all other parts of the cannabis plant, its other forms are considered illegal. It is well known that cannabis has several varieties, such as cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Bhang is made from a type of cannabis sativa, hemp, which is low in THC content.
THC is the psychoactive compound of cannabis, whereas CBD is mainly associated with medical marijuana because of its benefits. CBD can be used as an analgesic, though not as potent as morphine. The state government has full autonomy to provide the cannabis license which is subject to certain conditions which vary from state to state. The state of Uttarakhand, as well as, Jammu and Kashmir have issued licenses to certain registered research centres and companies which are collaborating with the state government for extensive research on cannabis and its medicinal and industrial uses. Even though these licenses are difficult to obtain, this implies a partial decriminalization of cannabis used for medicinal purposes.
The extensive research on the benefits of medicinal cannabis has yielded great results. This has led to medical marijuana being legalized in various countries. In India, certain reforms suggest its partial decriminalization, which could help cannabis products become a common part of the medical industry in the years to come.