Marijuana – Should It Be Legalised In India

    Marijuana, also known as ‘Vijaya’, is termed to be one of the five sacred plants existing on earth and yet it is not legal in India. Marijuana is a form of drug which is made from the leaves and flowers of cannabis which produces the feeling of being relaxed when consumed either by smoking or eating.[1]

    However, why is marijuana not legal in India? And even after that, why do we consume it on the joyous occasions of Holi (bhang) and Maha Shivratri (thandai)? Let us know about marijuana from its history to the current scenario.


    Marijuana is rooted deep within the Indian history with its earliest reference in Atharvaveda since 1500 BCE which quotes, “We tell of the five kingdoms of herbs headed by Soma; may it, and kusa grass, and bhanga and barley, and the herb saha, release us from anxiety.”This quote from the veda mentions various names of cannabis which define marijuana as a source of happiness, joy giver, and most importantly of a liberator. Further, the Hindu mythology correlates marijuana with Lord Mahadeva. The best-known episode of Shiva Purana, Samudra Manthan, mentions that while churning the ocean of milk, the individuals living on land(earth) demanded their share in ‘amrit,’ the last drop of such amrit then existed on earth as a cannabis plant. 

    In the Sushruta Samhita during the 3rd to 8th centuries, BCE suggests cannabis for ailments such as phlegm, catarrh, and diarrhea. Dwarakanath in the Indian Folk Medicine states that fumes of burning the Indian hemp are used as an anesthetic from the ancient time. 

    Another mythological event validating the legality and use of marijuana is related to Sikhism. Sikhism is a religion that generally prohibits alcohol and tobacco, but in the Sikh community, particularly the Nihang community, which consumes an edible form of cannabis that is bhang, sukha, or sukhnidhaan before or after the war is as a Sikh tradition in order to have a perfect mindset for the war.


    Cannabis is a plant with psychoactive properties, with more than 120 components known as cannabinoids. Cannabis Sativa which is the head plant has psychotropic features in its leaves, seeds, flowers, etc. which is generally available in two forms i.e. Hemp and Marijuana, where Hemp leaves are commonly known as bhang and Marijuana commonly available in forms such as ganja, pot, stuff, etc. in India. 

    The main components of this plant are cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC has high psychotropic ingredients whereas CBD has comparatively non-intoxicating ingredients which are used in medicines, beauty products, lubes, etc.


    Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1985, banned marijuana in India bypassing Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 under the pressure of Americans. But the question here arises why a plant that holds such an important position in history was banned in India, where Holi is incomplete without bhang and Maha Shivratri incomplete without thandai?

    In 1961, although India was initially not in favour of the decision, after the United Nations Convention based on Eradication of Synthetic Drugs (chemical compounds produced in a laboratory) categorized marijuana as a synthetic drug, India as well as other countries, under American pressure, banned it.


    Marijuana, particularly termed as a Synthetic Drug, was soon legalized in the United States where around 27 states started the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and 11 states started using it for recreational purposes (i.e. relaxation purposes). 

    According to statistics[2], hemp production has given a boost to the US Economy. In 2019, the hemp industry grew to $1.1 billion in annual revenue, and it could reach as high as $2.6 billion by 2022, according to the research and advocacy group New Frontier Data. By 2020, according to Forbes, the US manufacturing industry has created numerous job options for the US economy, bringing revenue of more than $44 billion by using hemp for producing lubes, food supplements, body care products, etc. Moreover, the worldwide legal and illegal market of cannabis is around $344 billion, and the global market for legal cannabis is expected to reach a total of $145 billion by the year 2025. 


    The Act defines cannabis[3] as:

    • Charas, which includes concentrated preparation, separated resin, in crude or purified form, obtained from cannabis plants known as hashish or liquid oil;
    • Ganja, which consists of flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant;
    • Any form of neutral or any material added with cannabis;
    • The cannabis plant, a plant comprising the genus of cannabis; and
    • Medicinal cannabis[4] which are the extracts or tincture of cannabis.

    The definition, however, excludes bhang as a part of the cannabis plant. The Act specifically classifies cannabis as a narcotic drug[5] and prohibits certain operations[6] related to cannabis such as cultivation or gathering of the cocoa plant, cultivation, or gathering of the cannabis plant and production or any form of consumption intra-state and inter-state is declared illegal by any person otherwise specifically permitted by the Central government.[7] The sale, purchase, possession, and consumption of bhang are specifically banned under the Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act, 1958, and the Bombay Prohibition (BP) Act, 1949 prohibits such activity without a license so obtained from the certified officer of Maharashtra.


    The punishments, as provided under the NDPS Act, are explained as follows:

    • Section 20 provides for punishment for contravention of cannabis. The section states that any person who in contravention of provisions of the Act cultivates, produces, manufactures, poses for inter and intrastate supply shall be punishable:
      1.  With rigorous imprisonment for up to 6 months, fine of Rs. 10,000 or both, if holding a small quantity.
      2.  With punishment is rigorous imprisonment for up to 10 years, fine of Rs. 1 lakhs, or both, if holding more than a small quantity but less than the commercial quantity.
      3. Punishment is rigorous imprisonment for up to 10-20 years, fine of Rs. 1-2 lakhs, or both, if holding commercial quantities.
    • Any person who is engaged for any kind of external dealings in relation to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (contravention to Section 12[8]),  shall be punishable with rigorous punishment for a term of 10 years up to 20 years and fine exceeding two lakh rupees.[9]


    The issue of legalization of marijuana has attracted various NGOs, activists, etc. to file public interest litigations and suits in order to continue with the ban of marijuana. Delhi is ranked[10] 3rd largest producer of weed after New York and Karachi by consuming a total of 38,260 kg of ganja every year followed by Mumbai on 6th rank with a consumption rate of 32,380 kg of ganja every year.

    The question arises even after stringent laws exist related to Marijuana in India, how come states like Delhi and Bombay rank in the top 20 producers of cannabis? As per the estimate, around 60,000 kg of hash and 40,000 kg of opium are produced in Himachal Pradesh out of which only one per cent is seized. What about the rest of the seized hash and opium? Imagine the amount of wealth that could have been derived from the sale of such cannabis by the government. The illegal production of cannabis existed and will always exist in our country, so why not such production leads to employment generation, wealth generation, and moreover tax generation and the amount of increase in GDP. The doubt related to values and the adverse effect of the psychoactive ingredients arise here. Marijuana is continuously being referred to as a gateway drug that liberates or activates the psychotic side of the person consuming it. The point of consideration here lies is that cannabis includes approximately 400 components out of which only one component i.e. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) leads to triggering of the psychoactive side or makes the person ‘high’. Further studies suggest that a total of 9 per cent consuming cannabis gets addicted to them in comparison to alcohol and tobacco which rates 32% and 15% respectively. Ever thought why the consumption and manufacturing of alcohol and tobacco are legal? 

    Are alcohol and tobacco fit for consumption? The answer to it is ‘No.’ Cannabis does have some positive points as well. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report after testifying almost 1200 people including doctors, coolies. Yogis, fakirs, lunatics, etc., came to the conclusion that the consumption of cannabis made their lives easier as they don’t get ill easily, can focus more on their jobs, and most importantly releases stress. 

    Consumption of an adequate quantity of cannabis cures ailments such as gastric appetizer, diabetes, leprosy, epilepsy, cancer, tuberculosis, diarrhea, jaundice, PTSD, venereal diseases, etc. If such a naturally existing plant of cannabis can cure so many diseases why do we ban such a plant?

    Great Legalization Movement India Trust filed a petition on 7th November 2019 in Delhi High Court to decriminalize the use of cannabis and educate about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. It is stated that the medicinal value of the plant is more than the ‘euphoric’ sensation of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the adequate use of cannabis can be a cure for diseases which can’t be cured otherwise. 

    Dr Philip McGuire, in a study conducted in 2017, stated:

    “Although it is still unclear exactly how CBD works, it acts in a different way to antipsychotic medication and thus could represent a new class of treatment. Moreover, CBD was not associated with significant side effects. This is also potentially important, as patients may be reluctant to take antipsychotic medication because of concerns about side effects.”

    Cannabis was referred to as the ‘Penicillin of Ayurvedic Medicine,’ i.e. the backbone of the Ayurvedic Medicinal Industries. The United Nations has been using cannabis for creating various medicines and patenting it under their name, the cannabis which is mentioned in the Atharvaveda back in 1500 BCE and we are the ones who have to create a ban on the plant. Not only that, Countries like Thailand and Indonesia where punishment on the consumption of cannabis was the death penalty, now have decriminalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, but Nepal has also altogether created a specific ministry viz. ‘Hemp Ministry’ which ensures the growth of hemp in the country. 


    Research shows that cannabis has grown continuously for the last 10 years in the area where the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bomb blast took place to reduce the radioactive waves and effects from the land. We talk about climate change and how it is affecting our environment, according to various studies it has been confirmed that the production of cannabis on barren land makes the land fertile within a few years. Moreover, cannabis is a plant that can be grown in any season and in any type of soil so why are we not using this medicinal plant to curb these problems. Growing cannabis will not only fertile the soil but also help in lesser consumption of fossils, maintaining an ecological balance, etc.

    It is generally noted how the archaeological sites in India whether being maintained or not maintained are deteriorating day by day. The use of cannabis relates to ancient history. The Ajanta and Ellora Caves, located in Bombay consist of Kala Kailash; where it is deemed that in this era(yug), Lord Shiva will appear from this holy idol is protected by a layer of ganja oil and this oil is actually preserving the idol from a  very long period of time.

    Cannabis is not only associated with medicinal benefits but is also used in wooden furniture, hemp fireboard, paper, textiles, fuels, lubes, fiber, food, etc. Ford in the 1940s and Porsche in January 2019 launched a car with cannabis as its raw material, not only that cannabis added in the raw material for lingerie led to a reduction in breast cancer as well as vaginal diseases.


    At last, we do not deny the negative aspects of cannabis which would lead to an increase in crime rates, addiction rates, etc. We are denying the use of medicinal plants i.e. cannabis in a country that has already legalized alcohol and tobacco? We do not deny that cannabis consumption can bust or be addictive for teenagers or even adults. These individuals get high even after the consumption of alcohol and tobacco which is readily available in the country, where tobacco earns revenue of a whopping amount of Rs. 11.79 lakh crores[11] that are harmful for human consumption. The need of the hour is the government to act smartly to legalize, decriminalize, and commercialize the production and consumption of cannabis. 


    [1] Cambridge Dictionary, 2020.

    [2]., advocacy%20group%20New%20Frontier%20Data (Last Visited September 16, 2020).

    [3]. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s. 2(iii).

    [4]. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s. 2(xii).

    [5]. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s. 2(xiv).

    [6]. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s.8.

    [7]. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, ss. 9, 14.

    [8].Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s.12.

    [9]. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s. 24.

    [10]. (Last Visited September 16, 2020).

    [11]. (Last Visited September 16, 2020).

    BY- Khushboo Garg | University Institute of Law, Regional Center, Ludhiana

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