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How legalising cannabis can help India ease some of its economic burden

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Indian cities are anyway among the highest consumers of marijuana in the world; legalising it will give the government a major new revenue stream.

New Delhi: Two Indian cities – New Delhi and Mumbai – have emerged among the top 10 in the world with the highest consumption of cannabis/marijuana.

According to the latest research by an Israel-based firm, Seedo, which supplies devices that allow for growing weed at home, New Delhi is third and Mumbai sixth in terms of consumption, while Karachi, Pakistan, ranks second in the world.

Of the 120 cities surveyed for Seedo’s 2018 Cannabis Price Index, New Delhi also found a spot in the top 10 for least expensive cannabis in the world (ranked 10th).

Tathagata Satpathy, the Biju Janata Dal’s Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha, is one prominent political face who hasn’t shied away from advocating the legalisation of marijuana in India, although his focus is on its medicinal benefits, not its recreational use.

“I want that the medicinal aspects of marijuana be properly researched and used for the benefits of people. I am into the medicinal and industrial usage – not into the ‘high’ parts, but the ‘lower’ parts,” the MP from Dhenkanal, Odisha, says.

However, it’s not just Satpathy. Women and Child Development Minister and BJP leader Maneka Gandhi too has, in the past, flagged support for legalisation, reportedly telling PTI that “marijuana should be legalised for medical purposes, especially as it serves a purpose in cancer”.

Revenue potential

The latest study by Seedo also looks at the monetary gains of legalising cannabis. The firm has not only estimated the cost of cannabis around the world, but also calculated how much potential tax each city could generate if the government legalises the plant.

As per the study, if taxed at the same rate as the most popular cigarette brand, Cairo would earn gains worth $384.87 million. The fact that both New Delhi and Mumbai are in the top 10 in consumption means there are great revenue benefits for the government if it legalises marijuana.

Satpathy concurs. “There is revenue potential, and the government should not let that revenue out. Why keep a trade clandestine and lose out on revenue? Rather, keep it controlled, earn revenue, and ensure that there is least misuse. Proper usage in medication and industrial usage should be allowed,” he says.

As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presents the Narendra Modi government’s last full budget Thursday, questions on the taxation of alcohol and cigarettes have resurfaced, especially after the implementation of GST. But legalisation of cannabis in India could present a safer alternative to revenue generation.

“Anything that is banned or prohibited becomes attractive for the younger people. If something as bad as alcohol can be legal, what is wrong with something that is natural?” Satpathy adds, reiterating that his support is for its medicinal and industrial usage, not recreational.

“The government will get taxes; there’ll be excise duties on it. So there’ll be excise earnings. There’s revenue potential on medicinal, industrial and recreational fronts,” he added.

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