DECRIMINALISATION OF CANNABIS
Author: Nabilah Rahman, I year of B.B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Kaling Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT Law School)
Marijuana also called cannabis, weed, dope, pot, ganja[i] and also referred to with other numerous names is one of the most abused drugs in the world with over 125 million[ii] people consuming it almost every year in various forms. It is found as a greenish-grey mixture of the dried flowers of the Cannabis sativa. It can be consumed in myriad ways such as in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints; in water, pipes named as bongs; in cigar-wraps referred to as blunts. At several places, it is also used to brew tea and for medicinal purposes, at times it is mixed inedible items such as in cookies or candies. Vaporizers are also being substantially used, as it is an added form with which weed can be consumed. It is ordinarily used among those people who do not desire to in-breathe the smoke; the machine concentrates the chemical labelled THC in the container and the user thus sucks in the vapour and not smoke.[iii]
Other stronger forms of marijuana include sinsemilla which is extracted from the female plant, resins (hashish) contains high doses of marijuana’s active ingredient which further includes honey-like hash oil, waxy budder and hard amber-like shatter. The resins have both recreational and medicinal purpose.[iv]
There are approximately 400 chemicals found in marijuana and hashish together and when smoked it reeks out a peculiar sweet odour. The significant psychoactive chemical which causes intoxicating effects which people seek or denoted as ‘high’ among the users is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).[v] This chemical makes marijuana a drug. As we know that certain animals, plants found in the wild have a distinct defence mechanism which guards it against predators such as plants may have bright coloured poisonous leaves which may attract animals but when consumed it might make the animal sick or alter their mental capacity. THC found in marijuana is one such defence mechanism which helps the plant to protect itself.
Vape it, smoke it, drink it marijuana eventually leads the consumer to feel the euphoria or the “hot” as it is described because it directly affects the part of the brain which pleasure response further unleashes a chemical called dopamine which nourishes the users with the sensation of being relaxed, comfortable and calm. If an individual vapes or smokes marijuana, the THC enters the bloodstreams rapidly, enough to make the person high within a time-span of few minutes, the level of which peaks in about 30 minutes which takes the person to a dreamy and unreal state of mind along with lessened coordination of the body and it takes additional 1-3 hours for the person to become sober again which is subject to the potency of the THC and the presence of other drugs. Depending upon how potent the pot in use was, how it had been consumed, what quantity had been consumed in the past may cause the effects which vary from person to person. The THC clouds an individual’s sense of judgement and also heightens the sensory awareness which may cause the colours to seem brighter and the sounds heard to seem louder than usual, laughter, increased appetite. It also lowers the inhibitions and consuming high doses may cause hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, loss of self-identity and psychosis.
Cannabis in India has been in use since the 2000 BCE[vi] and is correlated with faith and mysticism. In the Indian culture typical elements for marijuana, preparation includes charas (resin), ganja (flower) and bhang (seeds and leaves) along with other drinks such as bhang lassi and bhang thandai.
In the year 2000, according to the UNODC, the “prevalence of the usage” of cannabis was around 3.2%. A study conducted in 2019 by the All India Institute of medical sciences showed that about 7.2 million people have already consumed cannabis within the past years. And according to a study named “Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019” [vii]found that 2.8% of the Indians aged between 10-75 years were current users of cannabis products. Even the fact that the drug is illegal has not stopped Indians from consuming it. A Seedo report ranked Delhi and Mumbai among the top 10 cities in the world having the highest marijuana intake annually.
Ban of Marijuana In India
You will be astonished to perceive the fact that marijuana and opium were not proscribed but was licit in India in the 1980s and was sold in Government shops, and an individual only needed a Government doctor’s license to have the cannabis in the country legitimately. However, it was banned in 1986 and the ban of cannabis in India finds its genesis in the history of the US. In 1961, America ran a crusade to enforce a ban on the use and procurement of cannabis. Under article 28 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961[viii] cannabis was put under the index of drugs which was needed to be inordinately regulated by the signatory states and only those who had a license in hand could cultivate and possess marijuana. India was not a signatory of the 1961 treaty but under immense pressure from the US, Rajiv Gandhi led government had to release a Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act,1985[ix] which outlawed charas, ganja and any compound with or with no natural mix.
It was the country’s last nail in the coffin for marijuana prohibition. However, Bhang was not protected under the definition of cannabis (hemp), the act only made the use of hash resin and buds of the plant a forbidden act and leaves could be utilized, which is the exact ingredient used in preparing bhang. Under Section 20 of the NDPS Act, if an individual is found owning cannabis then it will cause incarceration of 1 year and a fine of Rs 10,000 or both. Furthermore, involvement in the illicit trade of the plant would cause internment of 10 years or a fine of Rs 1,00,000 or both.[x]
Great Legalization Movement India
The great Legalization Movement India (GLM), a Bangalore based advocacy group which is a non-profit organization, aims at the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and commercial purposes. GLM filed a petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the varied sections of the NDPS Act,1985 which criminalizes the usage of cannabis in the country.[xi]
“The treatment of cannabis at par with other harmful and lethal chemicals is arbitrary, unscientific, unreasonable and hence unconstitutional,” the petition filed through advocate Avinash Kumar Sharma said [xii]. It believed that cannabis has various recreational and medicinal purposes and when made permissible it would benefit the populace immensely. Cannabis also has great industrial utilization as it can be used for the production of biodegradable plastics, fibre and other items. Moreover, there are countries like Canada, Netherlands and the US which have begun to acknowledge the innumerable industrial, medicinal and recreational purposes thus, legalizing for use. However, it is also inscrutable that Bhang, made by using cannabis leaves, is licit for consumption, but the recreational use of the entire plant is illicit.
Advantages of Marijuana
The decriminalization of marijuana will have countless benefits for the country and the countrymen in toto which are as following :
I. Medical benefits: Varied studies authenticate that cannabis has dozens of medical benefits such as it impede cancer from the outspread in the body, treats glaucoma, helps in deterioration of anxiety and even decelerates the progress rate of Alzheimer’s disease, ameliorates metabolism and even goads creativity in an individual’s brain. If smoked regularly and in a controlled manner also helps in avoiding certain diseases.
II. Will help local cultivators[xiii]: There are many farmers in states like Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu who are dependent on the cultivation of marijuana for their livelihood as it is such a plant which can grow in very harsh conditions and the cultivator does not even incur any costs. Since the drug is banned these farmers are forced to sell their produce at a very cheap rate to drug-lords and are even subjected to pressure from the police who aim to destroy such cultivation. Legalizing the cultivation of marijuana will put an end to this “war on drugs” which is hampering the lives of our countrymen.
III. Addiction is rare and is less harmful than alcohol[xiv]: As manifested by epidemiological research, addiction of marijuana is quite uncommon, contrary to the prevailing stereotypes because only 9% [xv]of the users get addicted to it as opposed to 15%-32%[xvi] of addiction caused by tobacco, alcohol and cocaine. Furthermore, studies have also shown that it is less detrimental than the consumption of alcohol. Unlike alcoholics, stoners under the influence of weed do not end up in fights or doing rash driving rather they appear to be calm and pleasant.
Disadvantages Of Marijuana
On the other hand, legalization of marijuana will carry certain demerits as well which are as following :
i. Blocks memory formation[xvii]: According to varied studies, when the THC enters the bloodstream affects a part of the brain named as the hippocampus and alters the way information is retained and processed and also how the memories are formulated. The impediment of memory formulation can cause cognitive impairment in adulthood if the use of marijuana initiates at an early age and can also hasten age-related brain cell-loss.
ii. May increase the risk of depression [xviii]: Consumption of cannabis on a long-term basis may cause depression to those who have a genetic vulnerability to this mental illness. There also prevails a belief that the ones who are depressed use pot to comfort themselves, if this is true it might happen to be the leading cause in aggravation of depression.
iii. May cause anxiety, fear, panic and psychosis[xix]: Somewhere around 17%-23% of the users report that they experience anxiety and fear which again becomes a reason to use cannabis as it makes the user relaxed and reduces their anxiety for a while. When high doses of cannabis are consumed for a prolonged time may cause a person to suffer from psychosis where a person hallucinates, experiences delusions and the loss of personal identity.
Nevertheless, when we do a comparative analysis of both aspects, the positive aspects outweigh the negative. After researching on the topic, I conclude that marijuana must be re-legalized in the country where charas and hash have been celebrated for centuries.
Conclusion and Suggestions
The reason which would support my conclusion of legalizing cannabis are :
1. Elimination of illegal trades and associated crimes[xx]: Marijuana legalization or decriminalization will help in getting rid of the illegitimate businesses and distribution of marijuana. Instead of dealing with a black-market being dominated by drug-lords and criminals, it would be associated with government bodies, farmers, merchants and retail clerks.
2. Increase in revenue [xxi]: Instead of favouring the illegal Italians and Israeli drug cartels to make a profit by promoting forbidden activity in the nation it would be profitable for India to decriminalize the use of marijuana like a usual commodity which is “legal but taxed and regulated”. The tax charged on marijuana would increase the revenue collected by the government.
3. Creation of jobs [xxii]: After marijuana was legalized in Colorado over 10,000 jobs were created, the same would happen if marijuana is legalized in India, which would cause the plethora of jobs to be created.
But certain points must be kept in mind while legalizing marijuana such as the minimum age of consumption must be kept at 25 years and the quantity a person can carry must be around 5-6 grams only for the recreational purpose and if an excess of what is stated is found then the person should be strictly punished for the act committed. Such regulations if coming into force along with the decriminalization would help in keeping the threats of consumption of marijuana in moderate to low levels.