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Friday, April 16, 2021

Is Bollywood-drug link new thing? Here’s all you should know in 6 points

So here comes the major development. The A-listers of Bollywood are coming under the scanner of law for using drugs. As per the prime time news, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on Wednesday issued summons to several top Bollywood actresses including Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor and Rakul Preet Singh in a film industry-drug nexus case.

As per ANI report, Deepika Padukone has been summoned on 25 September while Shraddha Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan have been summoned on 26 September. Deepika Padukone’s name has reportedly emerged in various drug-related chats, which has left social media stunned. But our question is why stunned? Don’t we already know how the film industry and the drug world have been having ages of co-relation? And why only film industry, India’s association with drugs has been going on since time immemorial. In this article, we shall delve into all the aspects of India’s relation with drugs and whether it is time to legalise weeds as the call is being pitched from various quarters.

The background

It has been 35 years since cannabis was criminalised in India under the aegis of a US-driven war against drug crime. For several centuries, before the Indian government acted under the influence of Western agenda setting, Indians have been consuming cannabis products, mentioned even in early texts, for medical and recreational use. According to a 2019 Union social justice ministry report, 1.3 crore people use cannabis in its illegal forms (ganja and charas) – apart from 2.2 crore users for bhang, which is legal.

Putting such a huge population of cannabis users in constant fear of criminalisation under the stringent Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act is not just inhuman, it is also contrary to Indian cultural precepts that accepted cannabis use. A recent Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy study notes several aspects of the ban including driving sales underground, leading to dangerous adulteration and boosting more potent psychoactive drugs. Ironically, many US states and countries like South Africa and Canada have legalised marijuana for personal use, while bans continue to stick in slow-to-react India.

Should India legalise weeds? Here’s the debate amid Sushant death controversy in 6 points

1. The history of weed in India

The roots of the cannabis ban in India has its roots in the US. One might have noticed how states in the United States of America are now legalizing cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes; the case was not different around 60 years ago. In the 1960s, America ran a campaign to impose a ban on cannabis. Under Article 28 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, at the United Nations, cannabis was put under the list of substances to be highly regulated by the signatory state. As per the decisions made during the convention, only licensed personnel can cultivate or deal in the Cannabis plant.

Though the reason behind the ban was listed as to control the use of drugs and the involvement of organized crime in the cultivation and distribution of narcotics, it is believed that one of the reasons behind the ban was the possible industrial applications of the plant. Cannabis and its variants like hemp can grow in harsh conditions at a very rapid rate. Different parts of the plant can be used in making fabric, medicines, fodder, and other products. Some experts believe that as the plant was cheap to produce, it was not easy to sell products made out of it at a higher price making it less profitable for corporate.

2. What’s the science behind weeds?

The cannabis plant has two chemicals that are often time discussed. They are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. In fact, CBD has been shown to help with anxiety, depression, and seizures. Bhaang has both THC and CBD as active components.

So the government banned the recreational use of weed but allowed its use for customary and religious practices. Therefore, as long as we call it bhaang, and not weed, hash, charas, or ganja, we are on the safe side of the law.

Thereby, the law, in theory, agrees with the implicit benefits of having an altered state of consciousness, but while pacifying it’s now internalized Victorian morality that has unquestionably become a part of the sub-continental identity.

Bollywood drug
Photo: Twitter

3. Rajiv Gandhi’s role in the ban

India was not a signatory member of the 1961 treaty between nations to ban narcotics, including cannabis. However, under the immense pressure of the United States, Rajiv Gandhi led government had passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985. Under the law, the government banned charas (separated resin, crude or refined), hashish (a purified form of charas), ganja (flowering or fruiting top of the cannabis plant), and any mixture with or without any natural mixture. Under the law, the state governments got the power to permit, control, and regulate the cultivation of cannabis plants along with production, manufacture, possession, transport, inter-state import and export of the plant and its derivatives. Only the state government and its authorized personnel are allowed to cultivate the plant.

If someone is found in possession of cannabis in India, he or she can be punished for up to one year with a provision of a fine up to Rs10,000 or both. If someone is found involved in the illegal trade of the plant, he or she can be jailed for up to ten years or fine of Rs.1,00,000 or both.

4. What about legal cultivation of hemp in India?

Interestingly, though the government has the provision of licensing personnel to cultivate cannabis since 1985, the first license was given in 2018. Indian Industrial Hemp Association got the first license to cultivate hemp. In an interview, the founder-president of IIHA said in a report, “We will commence cultivation of non-narcotic hemp soon with the initial focus on creating a seed bank. The cultivation will be taken up in villages in the Pauri Garhwal region.” They got permission to cultivate hemp in Uttarakhand over 1,000 hectares, on a pilot basis. At present, the company sells fibre made out of the hemp plant.

5. How is economy related to this?

The NDPS Act limits India’s contribution to the $4.7 billion hemp market — which is expected to touch $15.8 billion by 2027 — to just 0.001 per cent. With over 3 crore Indians consuming cannabis, a study by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy found in 2018 that Delhi can raise Rs 725 crore and Mumbai Rs 641 crore if cannabis is taxed. India’s laws against cannabis are based on an Act that is now nearly redundant, with the US having legalised it for recreational use in 11 states — with others expected to follow suit this year — and for medical use in over 30 states.

6. Should India legalise weed?

In January 2018, the Prime Minister Office asked the health ministry to check the benefits of cannabis. The letter from PMO stated, “A reply indicating the decision/action taken on the submission of the petitioner may invariably be sent to the petitioner at the earliest, preferably a month. In case it is not possible to take an action or decision on the matter, an interim reply indicating the reason be sent to the PMO and petitioner.”

Later in the same year, the state of Uttarakhand allowed the cultivation of hemp. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor also talked in favour of legalizing cannabis in India. In March 2020, Prasenjit Chakraborty, a BJP leader from Tripura, requested PM to consider legalizing cannabis in India. However, the recent case of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has unearthed several instances where celebrities of the Indian film industry were involved in drug abuse. It is believed that the case will push back efforts of legalizing cannabis in India for some time. Also, recent studies have revealed how Pakistan is involved in narco-terrorism in India. It is one of the reasons the government may not consider legalizing cannabis any time soon.

Patiala MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi’s Private Bill that sought the “legalisation of certain intoxicants, such as opium and marijuana”, was cleared by Parliament’s legislative branch in 2016, but is yet to be passed. The Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act, 2006, — which “does not utilise deterrence to curb drug use and relies on a public health approach to protect the best interests of a drug user” — has been hailed as a “promising indigenous decriminalisation model”.

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