What UN reclassifying cannabis means

What UN reclassifying cannabis means

India is among 27 countries to vote in favour of declassifying marijuana from dangerous opioids such as heroin is classified

The question of the legality of marijuana falls in a grey area in India. While medicinal usage is not unlawful, recreational use is. However, the intoxicant has deep ties with spirituality in India. (Above) A Naga sadhu smokes up at the Kumbh Mela 2019.

On December 2, the United Nations Commission for Narcotic Drugs reclassified cannabis as a less dangerous drug.

The decision removes it from the Schedule IV category, which lists addictive opioids like heroin. India was one of the 27 countries that voted in favour of the rescheduling.

The move has brought to many the simple question: Is weed going to be legal in India?

At present, anyone caught peddling, scouring or smoking weed can be arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

Marijuana activists and entrepreneurs believe this vote could spark social acceptance and new laws.

“Cultivation of hemp is a state affair and varies from state to state. And its medical use is completely legal. It is only recreational use that isn’t, but bhang is allowed,” says Priya Mishra, India’s first female cannabis activist.

In 2017, she started Hempvati, a foundation that aims to educate and counsel patients, officials, and professionals on medical cannabis and industrial hemp.

She was inspired by her own personal experiences in this endeavour. Diagnosed with Stage 3 lymph node tuberculosis, it was cannabis that helped cure her.

A Bengaluru-based lobbyist for the legalisation of the drug says some basic research can show people the myriad medical benefits that the plant offers.

“For the past eight years, I have personally witnessed the kind of miracles this plant can do. I have a child with special needs, and I cannot explain how much cannabis helps him. I have people in my life whose anxiety, knee pain and other health problems have been brought under control,” he says.

Kunaal Kapoor, cofounder of SlimJim, an online hemp lifestyle store, agrees.
“The government needs to invest in research and even rely on research from other countries to figure out how this can be regulated,” he says.

The fact that Bengaluru is home to a cannabis clinic, Vedi Wellness Centre in Koramangala, shows that the city is ready, but there is a need for better conversations.

“We can make some noise, but it won’t make a difference. There are so many people in Bengaluru who are keen on setting up a business in this area, but are scared of being defamed and losing everything,” says the lobbyist.

Unique concerns

Marijuana Maharaj, a blog for the cannabis industry, does not see a major change coming.

While the UN vote reaffirms the therapeutic qualities of cannabis, it does nothing towards rescheduling THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects one experience when smoking weed) and CBD-THC (combination of Cannabidiol and THC; CBD is unlikely to get a person high). “We need to wait for the WHO to complete its critical review of the other cannabinoids including THC,” reads the blog.

The fear around THC has prevented constructive conversations around its use. With the NDPS Act already providing for cannabis to be used as a medicine, the vote changes nothing towards legalisation, it says.

Crackdown on weed

“This year has been hard for cannabis enthusiasts and lobbyists. The matter got linked with Bollywood and was blown out of proportion,” says Kunaal. 

Despite the massive crackdown on cannabis, and the media abuse, the government does recognise the medical benefits of marijuana, says Priya. 

There are 25 companies in the country with government licencing to farm and produce hemp supplements.

“The problem is that most people are not ready for the conversation. The Narcotics Control Bureau officials leading the crackdown are civil servants who don’t understand the many layers of the conversation,” she says.

Alcohol, she says, kills more people and causes more damage than ganja. However, the lack of conversation in the mainstream has allowed misinformation to exist and thrive, she avers.

“Our voices are not amplified because we don’t pay for PR. Celebrities who smoke ganja in the name of creativity, and have the money and backing, refuse to talk about it. Instead, they talk about a drug-free India. This kind of double life is not doing anyone any good,” she says.

She cites the examples of international celebrities Seth Rogen, Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa who have been advocating for cannabis use.

Closer home, in September, Milind Soman asked his followers on Twitter about the difference between bhang, ganja, marijuana and weed, and if they are legal in India.

His idea was to create a conversation. Once medicinal marijuana is regulated, industrial production will follow. “People will be able to gauge the benefits once it opens up. And when there is demand, there will be supply. It’s natural,” says the lobbyist.