Decriminalization Of Marijuana: A Comparative Study Between India And The World

by Sangram Kokate and Sanskruti Kulkarni

OVERVIEW OF THE NDPS ACT CONCERNING MARIJUANA IN INDIA

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act[1] (NDPS) was enacted in 1985 and it serves as the principle legislation to deter drug use and trafficking in India. This act came into force because of pressure from the western countries which had more rigid laws on illicit drug trafficking as compared to our country. Many western countries have now legalized the use of Marijuana and realized that it is for the best. It’s time we made our own decisions and walked the path of legalization.

Marijuana has been clubbed with other hard drugs like Heroin, Smack, Crack and Cocaine. They also interpreted Marijuana in the same category and banned it. Apparently, due to the change in laws, the business shifted from peddling of low category drugs to high category drugs like smack which also helped them gain humungous profits. Thus, this act gave rise to the drug problem in India where there was none.

It is a poorly thought-out act which has many loopholes and ambiguities which make it ineffective. These loopholes give rise to unnecessary problems. The act categorizes Marijuana, which is also called cannabis, as a narcotic drug. The definition contains the terms Charas, which is obtained from the Cannabis plant and Ganja which is the fruiting top of the same plant.[2] However, it prohibits the consumption of only these parts of the cannabis plant.

The law allows for the consumption of leaves of the plant which is the main element used in bhang. How can it be that Charas and Ganja are illicit while Bhang is legal in most of the parts of our country?

The NDPS Act lays out the punishment for the illegal use, sale, cultivation, and possession etc. of marijuana. It states that whoever contravenes any part of the act, that person shall be punished with a rigorous imprisonment for a term which may exceed ten years and shall also be liable for a fine of at least Ten Lakh Rupees.[3] In our opinion, the punishment given in the act is very stringent. Moreover, despite all the precautions taken by the legislature, unlawful trafficking of drugs still prevails in our country. Therefore, there is a chance for making Marijuana legal because of the inadequacy of the act prohibiting it.

WHAT IS THE NEED FOR LEGALIZING MARIJUANA?

  • REVENUE FOR THE GOVERNMENT

A lot of revenue can be generated by legalizing the sale of cannabis in India. Tax and sale duties can be imposed on the sale of these substances just the way it is imposed on the sale of liquor. Currently, different state governments have permitted liquor shops to start their business since they fill the government’s treasury in such critical situations.[4]

Similarly, sale of cannabis can earn the same profits. Due to the incompetency of the government to restrict the sale of cannabis, the drug mafias are selling it out in large and earning huge profits and no penny gets in the hands of the government. The restricted sale can generate employment to the workers as it includes many steps before actually selling marijuana. The revenue can also be utilized to fulfil other needs in the country.

  • DECREASE IN THE CRIME RATE

India stands at second place all over the world in terms of crimes committed. As mentioned before, the illegal sale of cannabis not only restricts the crime world to drugs but also many other crimes like human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, gambling, rapes, theft etc.
One crime leads to another and this can only stop by decriminalizing the sale of marijuana as everything will be regulated by the retailers, distributors and the government. Black markets will come to an end and the corruption which was reported by law executioners will also stop.[5]It has been noticed that the police had also entered in the marketing of cannabis and they joined hands with smugglers for black money.[6]
It is therefore important to legalize its sale and bring all the money in good hands.

  • MEDICAL USAGE OF CANNABIS

There are numerous uses of cannabis in medicines and medical treatment like cannabidiol can stop or slow down cancer. It also helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, relieves arthritis, used as an analgesic, treating autoimmune disorder and glaucoma.[7] In the war against drugs, America pressurized India in 1985 to ban the sale and production of marijuana but now America has itself authorized its sale in few states. The government of India should take the requisite steps to decriminalize cannabis and it should be brought back to the public to relieve them from their sufferings.

Results from the US and Canada:

People from the US[8] and Canada[9] use medical marijuana as a substitute for other addictive drugs and products.
As per a recent study, consumption of alcohol is very harmful due to its side effects whereas intake of medical marijuana is safe and healthy. This can only be achieved by imposing lenient cannabis policies. Also, a recent report has found that the states with lenient cannabis policies have a reduced sale of alcohol by 12.4%.
It is evident from the above arguments that in history, India was always pressurized by foreign countries to amend and criminalize the acts of sale of cannabis, homosexuality and adultery, etc. But apparently, the very same countries change their laws for the greater good of their public but the people in India suffer due to the orthodox practices. The time has come for our nation to change and legalize the sale of marijuana.

DISADVANTAGES OF CRIMINALIZING MARIJUANA IN INDIA

A Lot of people are rotting in jail as many have been put behind the bars after the sudden enactment of NDPS act in India. It was a severe blow to the population in India as they were accustomed to the tradition of using marijuana as a source of treatment. Even Ayurveda states many uses of the same. Such stringent laws not only drag the people towards its illegal use but also put a whole lot of pressure on the police and administration. The regulated use of this substance can bring everyone at peace. The slow process of the judiciary brings injustice to the ones who are behind bars due to the inefficiency of courts.

Ineffectiveness of prohibition is the major reason supporting the legalization of marijuana now. The forbidden fruit effect can be observed in India because the use of cannabis is prohibited but then too it is very popular amongst the youth of our country. The very reason being that it is easily accessible and also feasible. The most important resource to get it is only money and nothing else, not even age restriction. After many attempts and the failure to prohibit alcohol in our country, it has become very clear that nothing can be banned and can only be regulated. To stop this, the government should regulate its use and educate the society about the drug and its uses. The funds that are being spent on the prohibition of this drug are huge but unfortunately, the outcome is not satisfactory. Enforcing a ban on the plant is not possible as its habitat is very suitable to the climate in India, and therefore we should utilize it as a boon rather than a bane.

REGULATIONS LAID DOWN BY OTHER COUNTRIES WHICH CAN BE IMPLEMENTED IN INDIA:

Many countries in the world have legalized Marijuana in totality whereas some countries have relaxed their laws relating to the drug and made certain aspects of it legal. The regulations laid down in such countries can help India in smooth regulation after the drug is legalized. We have examples of many countries in front of us which can help us in this process of legalization:

  • Uruguay: Uruguay was the first-ever country to legalize Cannabis. However, they have laid down certain regulations after the legalization. It decided that the Government will be responsible for the production of the drug.[10] Only those pharmacies which are authorized by the Government will be allowed to sell the drug. There will be certain requirements which the people have to meet to buy cannabis. Regulation has also been imposed on the amount of the drug which a person can buy. For example, in Uruguay, a person can only buy up to 40 grams of cannabis per month. The country has also set up a regulatory organization called IRRCA which works in coordination with the police. Registration of the home growers and cannabis clubs is mandatory. Government approvals are needed in every step of the process.
  • Canada: Canada was the second country which legalized cannabis where regulations vary from province to province but there are some general rules like the drug will be sold in single colour packages without graphics and no marketing or any kind of advertising of cannabis will be allowed. They have introduced the Cannabis Act in 2018, in which the different provinces have been given the rights of distribution and sale, but an excise tax will be levied by the government. It has also set the minimum age to purchase cannabis and is very stringent in its implementation. This country also serves as a great example for India.
  • USA: Thirty-three states in the USA have legalized the medical use of cannabis whereas eleven states have made the recreational use of the drug legal. Here, a commercial license is required in the process. The country is making sure that no person misuses the drug and that law and order is maintained throughout.
  • Belgium: Belgium, which is a country in Western Europe, has also decriminalized the cultivational and personal use of cannabis if the amount is in small scale. Its medical program is closely regulated and it allows the sale of pharmaceutical cannabis only and no other sale is permitted in the country.
  • Netherlands: Thoughthis northwestern European country has not legalized marijuana fully, it has relaxed approaches towards the drug. It allows  citizens to keep and cultivate marijuana. It also permits the coffee shops to sell the drug as long as they don’t sell it to minors. There are many other requirements also that have to be fulfilled apart from the age criteria.

Many countries including the Czech Republic have made medical cannabis available for those who have cancer, AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Some studies have pointed out that cannabis has the potential to cure cancer. However, it won’t be of much use if it remains illicit.

Before concluding, we can say that the significant advantages overpower the perilous disadvantages. The legalization of marijuana should see the light of the day and necessary amendments should be made in the legislation. Also, as we have seen above, many countries have legalized cannabis, so even India can follow suit and make the drug legal but with apt regulations for the smooth sailing of this issue.

Opinion expressed by the authors are personal.


[1] NDPS Act (1985).

[2] NDPS Act (1985) Chapter 1, section 2(iii).

[3] NDPS Act (1985) section 20.

[4] Harikishan Sharma, Explained why liquor sales matter to states, TNIE (May 7, 2020), https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-why-states-are-so-keen-about-excise-duty-on-liquor-6393643/.

[5] RachitaDabre, Policemen booked for letting off drug peddler, The Hindu (Sept. 19, 2019), https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/policemen-booked-for-letting-off-drug-peddler/article29452960.ece.

[6] Express News Service, Mohali: After drug peddler accused him of taking bribe, cop booked for extortion, TNIE (Aug. 1, 2019), https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/mohali-after-drug-peddler-accused-him-of-taking-bribe-cop-booked-for-extortion-5868418/.

[7] R. vs. Smith, (2015) 2 S.C.R. 602 (Can.)

[8] Reiman, A. 200, Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs, Harm Reduction Journal, 6(35).

[9] Lucas, P. 2012. Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs: A dispensary-based survey of substitution effect in Canadian medical cannabis patients. Addiction Research & Theory. 21(5), p.435-442.

[10] Jack Davies and Jan De Deken, The Architect of Uruguay’s Marijuana Legalization Speaks out(Dec. 15, 2013), https://reason.com/2013/12/15/the-architect-of-uruguays-marijuana-lega/.

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