It is strange that Hindu nationalists are not coming to the defence of Rhea Chakraborty on her alleged consumption of weed. Cannabis is one of five essential, even sacred, plants mentioned in the Atharva Veda.
Vedic endorsement is not the only reason why we need to consider legalising of marijuana. The ban is unnecessary, detrimental to public health, and is causing a huge loss of revenue to the government.
Many would be surprised to hear that the use of cannabis in various forms was legal in India until 1985. That’s when we banned it under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. This was part of a global push, championed by the United States. But there’s a reason why many states in the US itself have now legalised cannabis.
A 2019 study on substance abuse by the Ministry of Social Justice estimated that 2.8 per cent Indians consume cannabis. That comes to around 3 crore Indians. Delhi and Mumbai are among the highest cannabis consuming cities in the world. Those who want to put Rhea Chakraborty in jail for alleged use of weed should consider this: if the law was applied in full force, around three crore Indians would be in jail, serving a term anywhere between six months to 10 years, depending on the amount of cannabis found on them.
What does Arnab smoke?
Call it cannabis, marijuana, hashish, hash, ganja or charas, way too many people consume it in some form or the other for pleasure. This is one of our social hypocrisies — we know it is prevalent, we know everyone who does it is not an addict in need of medical attention, and yet we don’t question the need for it to be illegal.
Like alcohol prohibition in Gujarat and Bihar, the criminalisation of cannabis is a sad joke. A recent study by Delhi-based Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy found, unsurprisingly, that most who fall victim to the law are the poor and marginalised. We rarely hear about middle-class or rich people going to jail for smoking up. They’ll get away with a bribe. Unless, of course, it is a politically motivated witch-hunt, which is what the media and the government are doing to Rhea Chakraborty.
In fact, Arnab Goswami’s style of coverage would have done more harm, driving peddlers underground and users at the mercy of unsafe options. Are the prime time hitmen of reputation smoking something stronger? Arnab can’t possibly be normal to do the item numbers he does to chase TRPs. If you think people who do weed are deranged, you should watch some prime time news one of these days.
Regulate for public health
Nobody is denying that cannabis use can be detrimental to public health. Which is precisely why we need to legalise and regulate it — just like tobacco and alcohol. The criminalisation of cannabis has resulted in a mammoth underground cannabis economy. As a result, people often don’t know what they are smoking, how strong it is, how adulterated, how bad, how many other harmful chemicals are mixed in it. Unless of course they’re growing the Vedic plant in their backyard — not something that’s unheard of.
Legalisation would mean less stigma around the use of cannabis, which in turn will help the extreme cases get better access to de-addiction centres and support groups. Some recent success in Punjab’s war against drugs has come not by putting drug users in jail but by widely distributing de-addiction pills among them.
We need to fight the falsehood that every user of cannabis is an addict who goes on to use harder, more harmful psychotropic substances. If anything, cancer-causing tobacco is more harmful, singularly the largest cause of lung cancer. Banning cannabis with tough jail terms just because some people over-do it, is like banning alcohol just because some people become alcoholics. Not that bans work.
GST on cannabis?
There are three kinds of economic opportunities India is missing out on with its irrational ban on cannabis.
First, many countries have decriminalised the use of cannabis. India could export cannabis to these countries and earn a lot of money.
Second, the government could earn a lot of money in tax revenue by legalising the drug. According to one study, the Delhi government alone could raise Rs 725 crore in annual tax revenue by legalising cannabis.
Third, the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy study points out that the strict ban on the cultivation of cannabis makes it difficult to produce industrial hemp — used in various sectors from construction to paper-making. India’s share in the $4.7 billion global hemp market is 0.0001 per cent.
Remember we are talking about something produced from a natural plant that has been consumed in this land for millennia. Legalise marijuana, end the hypocrisy. Something that’s Vedic and Ayurvedic, with proven medicinal purposes, can’t be banned as if it were poison.
The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.