Is it Completely Illegal in India to Have Marijuana?
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Authored by Avantika Raghuwanshi, a 1st-year student at CNLU, Patna.
Since the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, there have been floods of drug consumption cases involving celebrities such as Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor, and many more. Recently, Aryan Khan, the son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was arrested in connection with a Mumbai cruise drug case. The arrest sparked controversy over the legality of possession and consumption of drugs, especially marijuana or cannabis, in India. The primary question that arose was “Is it completely illegal in India to have marijuana?”
Marijuana, also known as Cannabis, is one of the most widely traded and commonly used drugs in the world. According to the United Nations, 158.8 million people worldwide use marijuana—more than 3.8% of the planet’s population.
The legal status of the possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes varies from country to country. Cannabis is legal for medical uses in various regions of North America, Africa, Australia, Europe, and South America. But it is still barred in the Middle East and Asia, including India. Several countries where recreational use of marijuana is legal are Canada, Georgia, South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, along with 18 US states and the Australian Capital Territory. Bhang, which is prepared from leaves of the marijuana plant, is legal in India.
Marijuana in India
Marijuana in India is known to have been in use since at least 2000 BCE. Bhang, an edible ingredient made from the leaves of marijuana, is mentioned in several Indian texts written before 1000 CE.
Cannabis is mentioned in many ancient Ayurvedic texts like the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Shargandhara Samhita. It is referred to in Ayurveda as an ingredient in various pain killers and aphrodisiacs but in small and detoxicated amounts.
The Britishers, due to the widespread use of cannabis in India, conducted a study entitled The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report in 1894. The report was to look at the cultivation of the marijuana plant, preparation of drugs from it, drug trading and trafficking, the social and moral impact of its use.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985
Marijuana was banned in 1985 by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, following the 1961 UN Single Convention. Until 1985, marijuana and its derivatives (hashish/charas and bhang) were legally sold in India, and their use for recreation and festivities was common.
Currently, marijuana is illegal in India for both medical and recreational purposes except in the form of bhang. However, different states have their own rules regarding the use, possession, sale, or purchase of cannabis or marijuana.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 is the central law that deals with cannabis in India. The law defines cannabis as:
Charas, refined or purified, is a separated resin obtained from the cannabis plant and includes a concentrated compound or resin called liquid or hashish oil.
Ganja, a flowery or fruiting top that does not contain seeds and leaves which do not form part of the structure
Any mixture or drink made out of charas or ganja.
The NDPS prohibits the production and sale of cannabis resin and flowers, but allows the use of the leaves and seeds, allowing the states to make provisions to control the latter.
In Assam, the Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act, 1958, prohibits the sale, purchase, possession, and use of ganja and bhang. Section 66(1)(b) of the Bombay Prohibition (BP) Act, 1949 bars manufacture, administration, and consumption of bhang and bhang-containing substances without a license. In Karnataka, the Karnataka Prohibition Act of 1961 classifies ganja and bhang as "intoxicating drugs" and prohibits the manufacture, possession, and consumption of these without medical purposes. On 21 February 2017, Gujarat authorized bhang by removing it from the list of "drugs" included in section 23 of the Gujarat Prohibition Act.
What If You Possess Marijuana?
The possession of marijuana (except bhang) in itself is illegal in India. If a person is caught with cannabis, he/she may be imprisoned for a rigorous term ranging from 1 year to 20 years, depending upon the quantity of the drug. Additionally, a fine of ₹10,000 can be imposed for a small quantity which may extend to ₹2 lakh in case of commercial quantity.
According to the Department of Revenue, possession of up to 1kg is termed “small quantity" of cannabis with “commercial quantity" involving a seizure of 20kg or more.
Demands to Make Marijuana Legal in India
Marijuana has various medical benefits including the removal of chronic pain, stress, and anxiety. It has been found useful in the treatment of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and other psychoses. Also, it is way less harmful than alcohol. Additionally, the law has failed to serve the purpose in various aspects as black marketing is pervasive in India. This shifts a significant portion of national wealth which could have been utilized for local development to international drug cartels.
Furthermore, the reason for bringing a central law for the prohibition of cannabis in India was to fulfill India’s obligations under various international treaties including the UN Single Convention, 1961. Now, various countries including the US have started legalizing it. Considering all these factors, India too should shatter the prohibitions and promote its culture which has deep-rooted use of cannabis both for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Marijuana has a long-held reputation in India for its religious, spiritual, and medical implications. After the 1961 convention, India strongly opposed stringent measures but it came up with the NDPS Act, 1985 that bars all sorts of uses of marijuana except in the form of bhang. Although is prohibited by law, the use of marijuana for recreational purposes is still prevalent in India.
The recent surge in drug consumption cases in India challenges both the functioning and legality of the prohibitions. Several countries in the West have decriminalized recreational as well as medicinal consumption of cannabis. It is high time for India to amend the NDPS Act to back the cultural significance of cannabis in India.