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Is Hemp legal in India? Recent developments of Cannabis Laws in India.

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

Cannabis is a part of Indian culture, with blessings dating back to the Vedas, which called it one of the five sacred plants and a giver of joy. We even escaped typical British attempts to criminalize a good thing, and continued smoking up peacefully until 1985, when after decades of pressure we decided to trot behind America’s footsteps and come down hard on all recreational drugs with the NDPS Act.


Let’s backtrack a little to understand why cannabis is illegal in India. Since the early ‘60s, the USA was campaigning on a worldwide ban on all kinds of drugs (both hard and soft). India resisted this pressure because using Cannabis was a way of life for us.


In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, introduced the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act which ensured complete prohibition on sale and purchase of Ganja (bud) and Charas (resin) in India. Only Bhang was made legal and could be purchased from government authorized shops. However, the drug had already been illegal in the country for over two decades because the Indian government had signed the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty in 1961. Many blamed the PM for succumbing to America’s pressure which began its war on drugs in 1971, long before India.

Cannabis, in particular, can do more good than harm. Its medicinal properties are now gaining recognition the world over, yet here we are busy destroying lives with our draconian drug laws. We are not promoting cannabis for recreational use, we strongly believe it should be legalised for at least medicinal and industrial purposes.


Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 American states and there’s a huge movement for greater cannabis reform. Legalisation will also end the black market around the production and distribution of cannabis in India. Last year, the Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh governments allowed the cultivation of hemp for medicinal and industrial purposes, but it will take a while for it to be implemented.

The other states still have a ban on hemp production.


In the past decade, there has been a steady global trend regarding the legalisation and regulation of medical as well as recreational cannabis. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to explicitly legalise all aspects related to marijuana. Italy, Romania and the Czech Republic legalised medical cannabis in the same year. In 2014, Colorado and Washington state became the first states in the US to legalise the recreational use of marijuana. In June 2018, Canada became the second country in the world to legalise the use of cannabis for personal consumption.

In 2015, the Bombay HC dismissed a PIL seeking to decriminalise the use of cannabis. In Jan 2018, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has issued notice to the Central Government and the state of Himachal Pradesh in a petition praying for removing restrictions on cultivation, processing and use of industrial and medical hemp in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The petition begins by stating that the endeavour of petition is to highlight the potential of Hemp and its various uses, and to free it from the clutches of the Drug Mafia. The petition further states that by reducing the content of THC (0.3 to 1.5 %), which is required for industrial hemp, in the plant and providing such modified seeds, the plant will become unusable by the drug users as it diminishes the psychoactive effect of the drug. The petition cites the example of Uttarakhand, where permission was accorded to cultivate hemp in 2015. “That Uttarakhand in 2015 announced that farmers across the state, except those in the Terai and Bhabhar regions, will be given permission for the cultivation of hemp plants. The Court issued notice to Centre and State and posted the case for further hearing.

Check the video below to know more


In May 2019, BJP government in Himachal Pradesh has gone back on its statement on legalising cannabis cultivation. Within hours of issuing an official statement that, like Uttarakhand, a proposal on cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes can be examined by Himachal Pradesh, the government took a step back by withdrawing it. The subsequent note did not find any mention of cannabis cultivation.

Himachal Pradesh High Court


In September 2019, a few elected representative demands the legalisation of cannabis through controlled cultivation, saying it can help boost the economy of the state. Israel, Canada and Malaysia have reportedly approached the Himachal Pradesh government to provide cannabis extract for use in the pharma industry and hemp industry, the demand for allowing its controlled cultivation may gain ground.


On July 19 2019, Petition challenges NDPS Act that criminalises cultivation and use of the drug. There is not a single document which shows that cannabis is lethal to human, a social litigation has claimed before the Delhi High Court in its pursuit to bring an end to various existing laws in India that prohibit and criminalise its use. The petition preferred by Great Legalisation India Movement Trust has challenged various sections of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act and Rules, 1985, which prohibit and criminalise the use of cannabis or industrial hemp and prescribe restrictions on activities related to it.


On July 27 2019, The Delhi High Court dismissed with a cost of Rs 10,000 a petition seeking to legalise cannabis, a banned drug which attracts criminal prosecution, for medical purpose. The date of the next hearing has been shifted to November 2019. A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar said there was no substance in the petition and it was not inclined to grant the prayer. The petition said that 21 countries including the United States of America and Canada have legalised or decriminalised marijuana (cannabis) usage for medical or recreational usage. It claimed that several medical researches show that there is strong evidence of medical benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids in cases of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and spinal cord injury.


A 2019 study conducted by the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences reported that about 7.2 million Indians had consumed cannabis within the past year. So, it is being consumed despite the law.


The ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy(AYUSH), which was set up to research alternative medicine, is also taking a serious look at the medicinal properties of cannabis. The government is open to learning and adopting the latest medical innovations. And because of that, we are hopeful. Have a look at this video.

So, what has India gained from the Cannabis ban? Nothing! The ban is more of a bane. We are depriving a nation of the immense medical benefits of this herb. The cannabinoids found in Cannabis is a great healer. It can be used to treat a number of medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, epilepsy, insomnia, HIV/AIDS treatment, cancer. In fact, it is seen that those undergoing agonizing treatment like that for cancer or HIV/AIDS find relief from the pain when they are given small doses of medical cannabis. Then why is this herb now banned in India?


India is actually sitting on a pot of gold, because as a country we have immense knowledge about its use and favourable climatic conditions for its production. Legalizing Cannabis would mean that we can be a key player in this growth and carve a place for ourselves as a leader of Cannabis based products. It is time we should consider legalizing the herb. And why wait for a better day, when we can do it now.

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