Regulation allows cannabis buyers to know what they’re consuming and moderate their intake, in the same way that a drinker can distinguish and choose between a whiskey and a beer.

I have never tried a recreational drug in my life. Not even as a collegian in the early 1970s, where many joked that they were living up to the name of their college, since St Stephen was a saint who was stoned to death. I have never tasted bhang, even for Holi.

And yet I am convinced that legally regulating the production, supply, and use of cannabis in India will reduce the potential harms of the drug’s use, put a dent in corruption and crime, and provide our country with an economic boost. My nephew, Avinash, who has been working on drug policy issues, has joined me to explain why.

The prohibition of cannabis was first entrenched in Indian law in 1985, with the introduction of The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. However, the drug had already been illegal in the country for over two decades because our government had signed the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty in 1961. This piece of international legislation stands out in its emotional wording; unlike most treaties, which employ accurate and objective terminology to identify their goals, the Single Convention refers to drug addiction as “a serious evil for the individual [that] is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind”.

This hyperbolic phrasing formed the base upon which international cannabis prohibition was built, inflicting needless black-market violence across the world to suppress the trade of a drug with far less harms than alcohol, tobacco, or even many of the drugs you may find in your medicine cabinet.

Before we go further, it is important to note that cannabis is by no means harmless. While many people who use it will not experience serious harms, research suggests that it can trigger or exacerbate certain mental health issues for some people. Those who use it as adolescents or younger may be more likely to develop mental health problems later in life. In some cases, it can also make people feel nauseous, lethargic, forgetful, anxious, or confused.

The potential risks that cannabis pose illustrate why it is our duty to legally regulate this drug. Rather than leaving the trade of cannabis in the hands of an unregulated criminal market, the drug should be safely produced by competent farmers, packaged and tested in suitable facilities, and sold by reputable and licensed vendors.

Many buyers currently find themselves ogling a nondescript tola of hashish, which their supplier may assure them is of the highest quality, flown in fresh from Manali. The buyer has no knowledge of its THC strength – the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis that gives the “high” – and pays no tax duty on their purchase. Regulation allows cannabis buyers to know what they’re consuming and moderate their intake, in the same way that a drinker can distinguish and choose between a whiskey and a beer. Imposing tax on cannabis sales can create revenue that can be spent on educating people about the risks of cannabis use, as we already do with public service information on alcohol and tobacco.

Regulation is not only beneficial for people who want to use cannabis safely; it also enhances security for all of society, as it helps undermine criminal markets. Due to the drug’s illegality, cannabis sales currently line the pockets of various characters in a vast criminal underworld, some of whom may be committing far more nefarious crimes.

Meanwhile, the cannabis trade relies upon the corruption of authority – whether it be the street-side smoker slipping Rs 100 to the local officer to escape prosecution, or the trafficking group which maintains the safe passage of kilos through towns and states by bribe or blackmail. Cannabis regulation will not solve all these problems, but it will reduce their scope.

The “war on drugs” pursued for the last 50 years has been lost – a conclusion arrived at by thousands of NGOs, politicians, and scientists around the world, including many former heads of state, Kofi Annan and Nobel Literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

Prohibition stabilises illegal drug markets worldwide and ensures unbelievable profits for organised crime. Yet, the legalisation of the sale of certain drugs could allow for high tax revenues, with which – similar to the legal drugs tobacco and alcohol – awareness and prevention work could be funded. Moreover, taking this step would significantly reduce the illegal drug trade and the criminal activity that accompanies it.

Alongside the money saved on policing and imprisoning people for cannabis offences, legal regulation would also provide a boost to our economy – the creation of a whole new legal industry. In the US state of Colorado, where cannabis has been legal for four years, there were over $1.5 billion worth of sales in 2017 (incidentally, Colorado’s population is just 0.4 per cent that of India’s). India could lead the way in Asian cannabis regulation – creating thousands of jobs from farms to factories.

And what better place to take this progressive leap than India? The cannabis plant, although now grown the world over, is indigenous to the subcontinent. In fact, one of the two main species of the plant – Cannabis indica – is named after our country. Cannabis is referred to in ancient Indian historic and religious texts, in accounts by Portuguese visitors and British invaders, and continues to be used in Hindu rituals across the country – most commonly in bhang form.

While we continue to be party to the Single Convention, the backbone of international drug laws that thrust the chaos of cannabis prohibition into India, we may be able to legally regulate the drug domestically without amending the treaty. Legal experts in Canada (where a legally regulated cannabis industry will be introduced later this year) say that regulation is permissible in countries that have signed the treaty because the document allows for the sale and use of drugs for a vaguely-defined purpose: “medical and scientific research”. Allowing and assessing the effects of legal regulation, they argue, is itself “scientific research”.

The international prohibition of cannabis has failed in every country that has attempted to implement it. Instead of stopping drug use, cannabis prohibition has fuelled violence and criminality, increased health harms, and cost society an exorbitant and immeasurable sum of money.

Now, as Canada, Uruguay, and several US states end cannabis prohibition and begin to legally regulate the drug, India must take notice. It’s high time for India to embrace the health, business, and broader societal benefits that legally regulating cannabis can bring.

Shashi Tharoor is MP for Thiruvananthapuram. His nephew Avinash Tharoor is Policy and Communications Officer at the UK drugs charity Release.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. This is the kind of out-of-touch liberal elitist BS causes that our Liberal brigade come out with.

    In a nation where people struggle to get basic amenities like food, shelter, toilets, medical care – we have one Member of Parliament firmly fixated on the real issue – “legalizing marijuana” . Because THAT is the need of the hour in India – tripping!

    These same elitist liberals scoff at economy class (“cattle class”) , champion “gay rights” and “legalizing marijuana” – where as in the “REAL WORLD” we have cities collapsing under overburdened municipal authorities, Banks weighed down by NPAs, farmers struggling to compete in a globalized agricultural marketplace, Govt struggling to balance the fiscal deficit and Indians doing their best to dodge taxes and litter every chance they get. And to top all these off we have severe water stress the length and breadth of this country!

    But our indefatigable MP from Kerala’s Thiruvanthapuram has his sights firmly set on what’s important in India – FFS GANJA !!

    • He is not ‘fixated’ on this issue. He speaks his mind about several issues and this is one of them.
      How is banning marijuana helping people get basic amenities ? In face, removing the ban may help a few folks make a respectable living rather than criminalizing them. The police can sped their resources on other issues.
      The fact that many in India are facing existential issues is all the more reason why we should not waste govt resources on unwanted bans like this .

  2. Already men are enjoying too too many privileges in our country – drinking, smoking, gambling, visiting pubs, brothels, watching porn, harassing girls on streets & now blatantly violating them resulting in spiralling crimes in our country. Enough of bestowing them with more & more entitlement.

    • Ur the only weed high deprived cumt …who hasn’t tasted the high for sure …..from a 20 year old stoner …..don’t judge the real age by stoner age tho …and stop fucking it up for us

  3. Excellent article. Hit all the right points about the fallacies of the drug prohibition. You sir are one of the few politicians I feel actually thinks logically and speaks.
    To the people whom commented against this. Yes we are a country with lot of much more important issues. But that doesn’t mean each and every politician has to only worry about that. We should have a wholesome development as a nation. And if u read the article you’ll know that the issue isn’t too get the nation “tripping”. There are so many social, economic and health benefits. So in a way legalizing will help combat those more important issues that u mentioned.
    Add to the person that thinks marijuana is going to make ppl more violent and commit crimes, I’d suggest you try it. Leave committing a crime just the thought of getting out of ur seat and walking a lil bit itself will feel like too much work. Most are usually very mellow after it.
    A moderate regulation is the way to go I feel

  4. Finally, a rational view for something that should have been paid heed to a long time back. Thank you sir for coming out with such a note, as it take guts to be a public figure and yet take a stand for what is right, knowing there will be people blabbering against it (a few have already started pouring in the comments as I see). And, for those who think this would increase crime, buddy, if laughing and eating is a crime, then yes, there will be an increment in crime lords.
    I wish the decision makers get to read this and take some solid steps in regularizing and legalizing some ‘stuff’.

  5. Yes, very true indeed. Another one from Mr. Tharoor.
    But, I mostly see these kind of educated and progressive thoughts from you in articles like these. Please move ahead and push to implement these in legislation.

  6. Preventing us from something that is essential for us is a Human Right Violation
    It is our right to grow Ganja or not
    It is our right to use it for our healing
    This is Not Democracy This Is Straight up Dictatorship

  7. Yes, legalising cannabis can help us here, giving rise to a new industry. It can provide farmers with a new crop to grow, which is cheaper to grow, and will open the doors to the scope in medical marijuana. But before legalising, it is really necessary for people to be made aware about the crop. Due to the prohibition from last 2 decades, there has been a shift in people’s mind about the herb. With the legalisation of hemp, I realised that there is a boost in the investments in hemp business. There will be a lot of obstacles in the way, but I hope our country will make it.
    There are many issues to be solved , but India can solve many of them by introducing hemp and cannabis into the society, thus we will be able to produce good quality hemp fibres and other daily products, plus many medical marijuana products like CBD oil, smokable pain killer buds.
    One more thing, if you think you can’t accept it!!! Let me tell you, if you take a look around you, you will see alot of youngsters smoking up, many Baba’s smoking up , almost every worker, driver smoking around you, and those who thinks working class doesn’t smoke up or people from good background smoke up. Currently , most of them go to kasol with friends to score charas. And smoke inside or hiding in the corners. Many of IT professionals smoke up, WHO DOESN’T???? Even I smoke up almost everyday. Regulation is the key!! Congress can make legalisation there new weapon, and get its power back. With this it can take the votes from all the stoners atleast!

  8. Thank you for this Shashi. I am an occasional user of marijuana for creative and recreational purposes I would like to add Marijuana is a PLANT INTAKE OF DOPAMINE a a substance our body produces when we experience novelty or something new it calms us which is the DMT in Marijuana which has loads of medical benifits the THC as rightly pointed out by Shashi can be monitored with education and awareness of excessive dependence but we know today that they really cant be separated and THC also can take man into states of high gamma waves associated with people in deep meditation….It is further part of our culture even mentioned in the Vedas it should be legalised in India and monitored as rightly suggested.

  9. yes . India should legalise marijuana. no meaning in wasting the medical properties of the plant . just on the fear that it would be misused. if this fear had been given the current importance electricity would never have been accepted.

  10. Ban or no ban cannabis is freely available everywhere. What stands out is the hypocrisy of the ndps act which criminalized marijuana and created a dangerous drug mafia. If the present govt is serious about eradicating drug menace in the country start first by legalizing and regulating cannabis, use the money in constructive purposes like education and infrastructure.

  11. Just signed in to commend Mr. Tharoor on a brilliantly articulated piece. Thank you Mr. Tharoor for bringing this up and presenting an informed, logical and balanced point of view.

    There is absolutely no reason for Cannabis to be illegal and Alochol to be legal, especially in a place like India where bhang has been historically consumed for thousands of years by Hindus. Under pressure from the United States, Rajiv Gandhi signed the NDPS, one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the country, suddenly criminalizing millions of users under pressure from the United States, who had clear vested interests. Alcohol, a drug with far more social and economic cost to India, continues to remain legal and popular. Criminalizing cannabis is not only bad policy, it is highly discriminatory, impacting poorer people who cannot afford to spend on expensive liquor.

    Now the west is starting to realize the follies of persecuting and criminalizing users, India needs to understand the draconian nature of the NDPS and follow suit by at least decriminalizing Cannabis use. Many states in the US have already made marijuana available for medical purposes, guided by numerous studies that have clearly indicated Cannabis’ potential as an anti-emetic, chronic pain management, anti-anxiety, insomnia and appetite stimulant. Cannabis has also been historically used in India for medicinal purposes, either individually or as an ingredient in preparations.

    Now, thousands are languishing in jails around the country for simply being caught with cannabis. A ‘crime’ that is only a crime because the government says so. The irony of cannabis being illegal in a country with tens of thousands of Shiva temples and millions of worshippers was probably lost on those who criminalized it in the 80s. It did not make sense then and it does not make sense in 2018 for certain.

    Again, thank you Mr. Tharoor for bringing this up.

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