Updated: Dec 18, 2019
In India, where a number of start-ups have begun to look into the many uses of this versatile and indigenous plant, the commercial cultivation of hemp still faces a number of challenges in India, due to the complex nature of the regulatory framework governing this sector. While psychoactive cannabis is illegal in India, hemp can be grown by obtaining a license from the State government.
Last year after a long period of ambivalence, especially given the taboo surrounding it, Uttarakhand has become the first state in India to have issued a legal license for the cultivation of hemp.
The Uttarakhand government has issued the licence for launch of a pilot project to promote cultivation of industrial hemp in Pauri Garhwal district, IIHA said in a statement.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said the pilot project is expected to benefit local communities, boost economic activity and encourage investment in hemp cultivation.
Cultivation of Hemp is a state affair and varies from state to state. Currently, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh are the only two states in India that have allowed the government supervised cultivation of Hemp. This is definitely considered as a landmark step that drives conversation forward on the hemp revolution. We are here providing an overview of the legal and regulatory framework for the cultivation of hemp in order to give a sense of the issues surrounding the cultivation and sale of hemp in India.
The legality of cannabis in India has been a contentious subject from the 1800s, and continues to remain so. In 1894, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission determined the use of cannabis to be harmless in moderate amounts. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, prohibited cultivation or production of cannabis plant by anybody, while reserving these rights with Central and state governments if they wish to do so, by creating rules later.
The Government has banned Cannabis trade by spending its resources to arrest drug traffickers, drug addicts, and offenders by cutting down marijuana plantations which are the source for the supply of illegal marijuana or cannabis in India. Among the various products of the plant, bhang continues to be legal and its sale is regulated by various states. Other products such as ganja and charas are illegal. However, NDPS Act does not differentiate between the different varieties of the cannabis plant species. The illegality of cultivating the crop makes it difficult to procure. Clearly, there is a need for change in the NDPS Act for scheduling cannabis according to its uses.
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There is a growing interest across the world in research on the medical potential of cannabis derivatives or synthetic products. State government or union territory should establish government run medical cannabis programme, as other countries have, so that this plant can be prescribed to and used by patients as medical cannabis and its derivatives can alleviate various ailments, including those of multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and the side-effects of chemotherapy. It has analgesic properties, of course.
However, unlike opium, cannabis doesn’t have side effects and is therefore gaining popularity among healthcare professionals and researchers. The research is still in the pipeline. Legal availability of these products would certainly facilitate more research and it could lead to excellent medicines being formulated from cannabis.
Hemp plant is an environment-friendly and sustainable crop which needs less amount of water, making it ideal for cultivation in regions that lack an abundant supply of fresh and groundwater, such as Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir. The hemp-based concrete alternative, called hempcrete, can be used to make bricks that serve as sustainable and cost-efficient building material. It has numerous uses – as paper, fuel, oil, medicine and all-purpose fiber. Hemp is used for myriad purposes, from food to clothing to composites for car and airplane parts to oils for dietary supplements.
Not just this, the multipurpose hemp can also be used in crop rotation to eliminate pesticides effects, soil remediation, weeding fields, and bio-absorption of heavy metals and contaminants. It is for these reasons that several companies are pushing for the cultivation of hemp to be taken seriously. Its use is ingrained in the culture of many parts of the country.
While the central plains of India near the Ganges river basin can be perfect for hemp cultivation, the barren hilly regions and water scarce areas can also result positively in hemp cultivation. In states like Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where cannabis plants are grown, marijuana is the only source of income for many locals. However, being a banned substance, the farmers are forced to sell it at a very cheap price to the drug dealers and they face additional pressure from the police as well, who are paid to destroy the cannabis plantations.
When the cannabis trade will be regulated by legislation it will be populated by government agents, farmers, merchants, and retail clerks and not by criminals or drug dealers. However, at present, the illegal trade of marijuana is booming at an alarming rate worldwide in the black market. Since cannabis production is banned worldwide, its demand is increasing because legal cannabis is still usually more expensive than weed purchased illegally. People buy and sell marijuana illegally under the scanner of law and make money. This money is unaccounted and is mostly used for black market dealings by criminals and smugglers.
Legalising cannabis can have major benefits for all citizens. If carried out correctly, everyone will benefit from less crime and stronger rule of law. Legalising the drug will especially help protect young people and may even lower their consumption of the drug. It is also a way of raising taxes for the state, instead of fuelling criminal organisations, which currently control the illegal market. These benefits are increasingly recognised by the public. Crucial to seeing these benefits come about, is the way legalising cannabis is done and how the drug is priced once it is made legal.
India is struggling to control the three addictive substances of tobacco, alcohol and areca nut. As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 270 million Indians use tobacco and it kills around 1.35 million Indians every year. Nearly 30% of India’s adult population is using alcohol, leading to 3.3 million deaths. Legalisation of cannabis is not only going to worsen these alarming statistics, but also serve as a gateway for one of these carcinogens.
Despite having a long and storied history with the plant it is only now that legal hemp cultivation is gaining traction in India. Given the size of the country, its history with the plant, and its emerging economy, it is quite possible that hemp can play a serious role in improving lives in the region.
It is not just the companies in India that are hoping to legalize the hemp cultivation to tap into the potential of the crop. Many countries have realised the limitations of the Supply Control-oriented approaches and hence are undertaking policy reforms.
China being the largest producer of industrial hemp with a share of over 20% of world production has devised a successfully growing agro-economy model. Uruguay legalised the recreational use, production and sale of cannabis in 2013. Canada legalised the possession of 30 grams of cannabis, dried or fresh, for those aged 18 or over in 2018. In December 2018, the United States Senate subsequently passed a historic Bill to legalize the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp. So, the activities around the world are propelling other nations to take steps for hemp cultivation, and India is evolving as the leader among the developing nations eagerly working to revitalize the 12,000 years old crop.
We hope that Indian state government as well as union territory also thinks logically on the basis of scientific evidence to formulate its policies as opposed to those based on notions of morality. We hope that they too recognizes the many advantages of hemp cultivation and makes the relevant policy changes to accommodate the growing demand for hemp-based products in all states of India as well. They should simplify the process for obtaining permissions for hemp cultivation as our economy and environment have a lot to gain from the large-scale cultivation of hemp.
We at Himalayan hemp community have had traditional knowledge of hemp and are trying to translate it into the modern context. While legalising cannabis cultivation in India for its multiple applications still seems a long way, Himalayan hemp community is working to manage legal hurdles along the way.
You can also show your support by joining our Himalayan Hemp community. Also, if you found this blog interesting or useful, please spread the goodness by sharing it and let us know in the comment section below.