Legal Ayurvedic Herb to Illegal Drug: Story of Marijuana in India 

Narcotics Control Bureau would have had no case against Rhea Chakraborty before 1985. Here is why.

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Snapshot

Concerned about the prevalence of hemp, a derivative of cannabis, in the Bengal province, the House of Commons in the UK, in 1893, convened a seven-member commission to conduct a study. After gathering 1,200 testimonies from across India, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report, completed in 1894, hailed cannabis for the “mild euphoria” and “pleasant relaxation” caused by it.

126 years later, actor Rhea Chakraborty was arrested for her alleged links to two men from whom allegedly 59 grams of marijuana were discovered by the police.

Yet, interestingly, as recently as 1985, all cannabis derivatives like marijuana, hashish and bhang, were legally sold in India. In fact these now ‘illegal’ drugs have been historically and culturally bound to faith and mysticism. So, here is how producing, possessing, consuming, and selling marijuana became a ‘modern-day’ crime in India.

Legal Ayurvedic Herb to Illegal Drug: Story of Marijuana in India 

  1. 1. Ayurveda, Shiva & Marijuana

    People at the local gaushala make bhang and thandai for welcoming visitors to the grand ceremony.
    People at the local gaushala make bhang and thandai for welcoming visitors to the grand ceremony.
    (Photo: Abhishek Ranjan/The Quint)

    Marijuana use in India has been recorded to have started as early as 5000-4000 BC. The use of marijuana in Ayurveda, in construction, and as a fibre, made it one of the most commonly used plants in India. Use of cannabis for its psychoactive properties was and continues to be widely prevalent.

    The medical use of hemp has been described in 12th century Ayurvedic texts like the Rajanighantu. There is even a myth around Shiva discovering the use of marijuana.

    The National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India by the Ministry of Social Justice estimates that India has over three crore marijuana users. Amongst psychoactive substances, cannabis is the second-most consumed in India after alcohol.

    Expand
  2. 2. Nehru's India Opposed Criminalisation Of Marijuana

    Marijuana: The common stereotype was that cannabis use makes people lazy and inactive. 
    Marijuana: The common stereotype was that cannabis use makes people lazy and inactive. 
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    The first signs of a move towards the criminalisation of marijuana in India were seen in 1961 after the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international UN treaty to prohibit production and supply of specific drugs, was introduced. This treaty, pushed by the USA, proposed a blanket ban on drug production and supply, except for medicinal and research purposes.

    This UN treaty clubbed marijuana with hard drugs.

    When the treaty was introduced, India led a group of cannabis and opium-producing countries to oppose the inclusion of organic drugs. However, they were overwhelmed by the US and other western countries.

    The 1961 treaty gave India a relaxation of 25 years to phase out the existing trends of marijuana use in the country. The exemption period ended in 1985, after which India enacted the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), as per the 1961 treaty.

    Expand
  3. 3. USA's 'War On Drugs', Racism & Marijuana

    The US wanted India to follow its drug prohibition model and its much touted 'war on drugs'. Some historians and sociologists say the roots of the US bias against marijuana are in fact, racist.

    Harry Anslinger is called the architect of the modern war on drugs,
    Harry Anslinger is called the architect of the modern war on drugs,
    (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

    The US war on drugs started as racist propaganda in the 1930s against the African-American and the Hispanic population. Harry Anslinger, who headed the US's Federal Bureau of Narcotics for 32 years and is called the architect of the modern war on drugs, argued that cannabis, then commonly known as 'Indian Hemp', leads to insanity, criminality and death. Marijuana use was linked to African Americans and Hispanics and was called the ‘most violence-causing drug’ in the history of mankind.

    The criminalisation of marijuana soon changed its perception from being a widely used recreational herb, to the American idea of an evil drug.

    Expand
  4. 4. Have There Been Attempts to Legalise Marijuana?

    In July 2017, Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi suggested the legalization of medical marijuana on the grounds that it would reduce drug abuse and aid cancer patients.

    About a week after the minister's statement, the Union Government issued the first-ever licence to grow cannabis for research purposes to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

    In February 2018, the Prime Minister's Office sent a notification to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare directing the ministry to examine the potential benefits associated with marijuana.

    However, as of now, possession, use and sale of marijuana remain a crime in India.

    Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

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    Expand

Ayurveda, Shiva & Marijuana

People at the local gaushala make bhang and thandai for welcoming visitors to the grand ceremony.
People at the local gaushala make bhang and thandai for welcoming visitors to the grand ceremony.
(Photo: Abhishek Ranjan/The Quint)

Marijuana use in India has been recorded to have started as early as 5000-4000 BC. The use of marijuana in Ayurveda, in construction, and as a fibre, made it one of the most commonly used plants in India. Use of cannabis for its psychoactive properties was and continues to be widely prevalent.

The medical use of hemp has been described in 12th century Ayurvedic texts like the Rajanighantu. There is even a myth around Shiva discovering the use of marijuana.

The National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India by the Ministry of Social Justice estimates that India has over three crore marijuana users. Amongst psychoactive substances, cannabis is the second-most consumed in India after alcohol.

Nehru's India Opposed Criminalisation Of Marijuana

Marijuana: The common stereotype was that cannabis use makes people lazy and inactive. 
Marijuana: The common stereotype was that cannabis use makes people lazy and inactive. 
(Photo: iStockphoto)

The first signs of a move towards the criminalisation of marijuana in India were seen in 1961 after the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international UN treaty to prohibit production and supply of specific drugs, was introduced. This treaty, pushed by the USA, proposed a blanket ban on drug production and supply, except for medicinal and research purposes.

This UN treaty clubbed marijuana with hard drugs.

When the treaty was introduced, India led a group of cannabis and opium-producing countries to oppose the inclusion of organic drugs. However, they were overwhelmed by the US and other western countries.

The 1961 treaty gave India a relaxation of 25 years to phase out the existing trends of marijuana use in the country. The exemption period ended in 1985, after which India enacted the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), as per the 1961 treaty.

USA's 'War On Drugs', Racism & Marijuana

The US wanted India to follow its drug prohibition model and its much touted 'war on drugs'. Some historians and sociologists say the roots of the US bias against marijuana are in fact, racist.

Harry Anslinger is called the architect of the modern war on drugs,
Harry Anslinger is called the architect of the modern war on drugs,
(Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

The US war on drugs started as racist propaganda in the 1930s against the African-American and the Hispanic population. Harry Anslinger, who headed the US's Federal Bureau of Narcotics for 32 years and is called the architect of the modern war on drugs, argued that cannabis, then commonly known as 'Indian Hemp', leads to insanity, criminality and death. Marijuana use was linked to African Americans and Hispanics and was called the ‘most violence-causing drug’ in the history of mankind.

The criminalisation of marijuana soon changed its perception from being a widely used recreational herb, to the American idea of an evil drug.

Have There Been Attempts to Legalise Marijuana?

In July 2017, Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi suggested the legalization of medical marijuana on the grounds that it would reduce drug abuse and aid cancer patients.

About a week after the minister's statement, the Union Government issued the first-ever licence to grow cannabis for research purposes to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

In February 2018, the Prime Minister's Office sent a notification to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare directing the ministry to examine the potential benefits associated with marijuana.

However, as of now, possession, use and sale of marijuana remain a crime in India.

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

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