THE Delhi High Court has dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking a direction to the Central Government to allow the medical use of cannabis and its allied products.
A two-judge bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar said that legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes could only be done by the Central Government, by either bringing a new enactment or amending the present law. The court, while dismissing the petition, also imposed costs of Rs 10,000 on the petitioner, to be deposited with the Delhi High Court Bar Association Library Fund.
The petitioner, a law student Prashant Sharma, in his PIL contended before the court that cannabis had been wrongfully clubbed with other chemical drugs under the stringent Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985. Urging the court to intervene, he argued that marijuana was an agricultural commodity used in various products such as food and beverages, cosmetics and personal-care products.
The petitioner also told the court that cannabis had been legalised in several countries for medical and recreational purposes and suggested that the Central Government should have undertaken research and enacted appropriate legislation to keep up with changing medical trends across the world.
Another petition filed by the Great Legislation India Movement Trust, seeking to de-criminalise of the use of cannabis in India is pending for consideration before a bench headed by Justice G S Sistani. The bench while posting a hearing of the plea for later this month had expressed concern over rising drug abuse.
Mild euphoria, pleasant relaxation replaced by statutory stigma
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 was the first-ever international treaty to have clubbed cannabis (or marijuana) with hard drugs which imposed a blanket ban on their production and supply except for medicinal and research purposes. During the negotiations for the United Nations treaty signed in New York, a group of cannabis and opium-producing countries, led by India, opposed the ban of the organic drug for socio-cultural use.
Pre-independence, India had a far more pragmatic approach towards the use of marijuana with restrictions on harder substances like opium. The Indian Hemp Drug Commission, which was appointed in 1893, far from finding it addictive, hailed cannabis for the “mild euphoria” and “pleasant relaxation” caused by it.
It was towards the end of this exemption period that in 1985 the Central government conforming to the 1961 treaty came up with the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985. The NDPS Act replicated the loophole provided in the 1961 treaty’s definition of cannabis, whereby the leaves and seeds of cannabis were spared the stigma of contraband.
The NDPS Act also specified that cannabis meant “charas” (the resin extracted from the plant), “ganja” (the flowering or fruiting tops of the plant) and any mixture or drink prepared from either of the two were permitted forms of marijuana.
Thus, the NDPS Act allows people to smoke marijuana or drink bhang(an edible mixture made from the buds, leaves, and flowers of the female cannabis, or marijuana plant) so long as they could prove that they had consumed only the leaves and seeds of the cannabis plant.
However,the law was criticised on the ground that it clubbed and banned marijuana, hashish and bhang with hard drugs like smack, heroin, and cocaine.
Under the NDPS Act, the minimum punishment for any offence is 10 years in jail. The result of this law was that almost overnight the entire trade shifted from peddling cannabis to hard drugs. This was because profits from the hard-killer drugs were ten times higher.
How the world sees marijuana
In the past decade, there has been a drastic change in the global perspective towards marijuana. Due to its medical purposes, countries like Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States, have legalised the use of marijuana. Inthe United States, the use of marijuana (a more addictive derivative) for medicinal purposes is legal in several states, whereas its use forrecreationalpurposes has also been legalised in some states. Canada has legalised its use for recreational as well as medicinal purposes. Europe does not recognise the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, but its use for medical purposes is permitted in many countries.
Uttarakhand legalises cannabis cultivation
In 2017, Uttarakhand became the first Indian state to legalise cannabis cultivation. The government however made it clear that farmers could only sell their product to the government and not to private buyers. The motive behind the legalisation was to allow the flow of cash into the rural economy of Uttarakhand.
Following the example set by Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh also issued a proposal on the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes the state. Cannabis cultivation is now a source of income for the rural population in Himachal Pradesh as well as Tamil Nadu.
Cannabis is known to provide medical benefits in the treatment of glaucoma in preventing cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, reducing anxiety, slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, improving metabolism and increasing creative activity in our brain.