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Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances Act,1985 In Reference With Cannabis

With the changing lifestyle of the upcoming generation, especially teenagers, one frequently finds them laying hands on this drug called Cannabis which is prohibited. When one hears the echoing in the background Legalise Marijuana' , it's time, we stop, wait and think, Can we do it? Is it possible? And why in the first place was it banned by The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

Before we go into why it was banned, let's understand.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a plant or herb used to produce fibre or drug which has numerous names, some of which generally used are marijuana, hemp, weed, ganja, charas, bhang, pot, joint, etc. It was discovered by Stephan Endlicher, an Australian Botanist in 1837. Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants placed in the Cannabaceae family. It's origin dates back around 12000 years ago, initially having evolved on the steppes of Central Asia.

First scientifically used by China in 4000 BC for anaesthetic purposes, it then travelled to Korea about 2000 BC along with the coastal farmers who used it as pot to smoke. On the basis of use, it is known to have reached India from Korea but with the religious and cultural use of this plant, Cannabis can have it roots in India even before it is historically traced.

The scientific names of Cannabis are Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis. They are different in terms of growth and properties.

Cannabis Sativa

That type of the plant that is smoked the most. Tall and narrow leaves of the plant are usually found in India, Mexico, Columbia, Nigeria and Thailand. One can consume this plant by drying and then cooking. One does not get stoned by the use of this drug, though it gets you intoxicated to feel happy and highly conscious which will lead you to feel alive and hungry. One of the main components of Sativa is TCH, tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the psychoactive compound that makes one feel high.

It is not life - threatening or harmful if consumed moderately. Cannabinoid means compounds produced by Marijuana. There are also natural cannabinoid chemicals produced by our body. TCH, though psychoactive in nature, works in accordance with our own memories, pleasures, thinking, etc.

It reacts and makes our mind feel what we have already been feeling passively or unconsciously. It produces dopamine which makes one feel calm. Also, it has many medical purposes such as pain relief,helps treat insomnia, depression and anxiety, improving vision, nausea and low appetite. In the days when this plant was legal in India, many labourers, army officers, or workers involved in rigorous physical activity used it to get on their toes and pull themselves to work or feel active and energised. The risks of consuming it are impaired motor skills.

Cannabis Indica

Unlike Sativa, these are bushy, short and have round leaves. It is found above the altitude at which usually Sativa is found, i.e., above 30 degrees North. It is known to be a sedative and can put the body in deep levels of relaxation due to CBN. Indica is known for its main component called CBN. It is a non-psychoactive and non-intoxicating compound. When TCH ages, the plant produces CBN.

So, it is present in Cannabis plants that are older and have CBN in very high amounts. This can also be said as, the older the cannabis, the more sedating it gets. Some of the benefits of Indica is that it is antibacterial in nature and can be potentially used to treat bacterial infections that antibiotics fail to treat. Like Sativa, Indica too creates appetite. It helps to cure glaucoma that is the cause of blindness in people mainly above the age of 60. It also helps people suffering from joint pain, especially from rheumatoid arthritis where it works as an anti-inflammatory.

Cannabis Ruderalis

This plant is shorter than Sativa and Indica and grows usually in the northern regions but scientists say that it can be grown anywhere at any altitude. It is highly psychoactive or psychotropic. It is mostly found in Russia and Central Asia where it is grown as weed. Countries where medicinal cannabis is legal, patients get to grow this short and small variety of Ruderalis at home. It is known for autoflowering.

Autoflowering means that unlike Sativa and Indica, Ruderalis is capable of transitioning from vegetative to flowering phase. It is a priced species as it is valuable for breeders who cross breed Ruderalis along with other species to produce or create hybrids that can have the characteristics of autoflowering like Ruderalis.

This type of Cannabis contains high levels of CBN and very little TCH which proves it good for medicinal purposes as well as those who look for natural effects of the plant. Plus, the autoflowering characteristic of Ruderalis makes it possible for the breeders to create hybrids with high amounts of CBN.

What is the significance of cannabis to Indians?

Marijuana is known to have been introduced to mankind by Lord Shiva. It was once when Lord Shiva had a feud with his family and he stormed off to the fields. The Cannabis plants that he discovered in the fields made him calm and he discovered the fascinating properties of this plant. He found himself in the higher consciousness which even now is used by the sages or sadhus especially on the occasion of Maha Shivratri to connect themselves with the spiritual world.

The Atharva Veda-Samhita and The Rig Veda also mention Cannabis between 2000 and 1400 BC . Atharva Veda has been written as how it was verbally chanted for years. Book 11, Hymn 6, Verse 15 states that:
We tell of the 5 Kingdoms of herbs headed by Soma ( the nectar of immortality); May it and kuch grass, and Bhanga and barley, and the herb Saha release us from anxiety.'
May the hemp and may Gangida protect me against vishkandha!

These texts also mention that Ganja is a good luck charm or an object that protects its possessor from diseases and demons.

Rig Veda, Book 8, Hymn 91, Verse 1 talks about a pot Soma. Soma, as mentioned above, the nectar of immortality, is a secretion in the brain that is similar to the substance secreted in the brain after one performs yoga, pranayama or meditation.

The Cannabis stems were also used in Yagnas or Vedic rituals to protect oneself from evil forces.

Not to forget, the Vedas call hemp the source of happiness, joy-giver and liberator'.

Cannabis has been a very essential part of Ayurveda. Known as the penicillin of Ayurvedic medicine, it is also used to cure high blood pressure, bladder and kidney stones, skin infections, neuralgia like Chickenpox, diarrhoea, anti-inflammatory, insomnia, chronic pain in tuberculosis and tumours, lung cancer, and even just to simply create appetite. Ayurveda recognises Cannabis in three forms- Bhaang, Ganja and Charas.

Before Independence
When Britishers came to India, the use of marijuana was at a very large scale. It was used by coolies, yogis, fakirs, bhaang peasants, army officers, saadhus, labourers, and many other common people who sought the feeling of being in the higher consciousness.

The Britishers wanted to reduce the use of this drug and so they set up The Indian Hemp - Drug Commission (1893-94). The President of the commission was Mr. W. Macworth Young.

This commission interviewed and researched for a year and then gave the Indian Hemp Drugs Report in 1894. Though this report is more than a 100 years ago, it is still relevant today. During this interview, along with all the people using it as mentioned above, even doctors and heads of lunatic asylums were interviewed. Special visits to lunatic asylums were made for the sociological analysis of the report and to see if this drug leads to insanity. This Commission began its work on 3rd July, 1893, and was completed with over research and interviews with 2000 people.

There were a total 6 Volumes of data and conclusions on whether or not cannabis caused psychoses.
Conclusion of the report- The report stated that occasional use of hemp in moderate doses may be beneficial but this may be regarded medicinal in nature. The report considered the effects separately as affecting the physical, mental and moral nature. It also went on to state that suppressing this drug would be unjustifiable as this drug has a long ancient and religious sanction amazing the Hindus and that it is harmless in moderation.

Background of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act,1985 and Why was it banned?

With the worldwide increase of production and consumption of Narcotic drugs, the three Conventions held in 1961, 1971 and 1972, as mentioned in Section 2 clause 9 of the NDPS Act were held to control drug abuse.

The UN with the help of WHO scheduled the known drugs into groups and prohibited them which triggered the illegal market for the growing and selling of drugs. India along with many other countries too signed the Convention for the control of Narcotic Drugs. Cannabis has been in large use along with opium since years in India.

Cannabis has been known to be in use since the time of Lord Shiva. Now, when in 1961, the list of drugs was revised and Cannabis was added in the first and fourth schedule of drugs on the basis of serious risk of abuse and particularly harmful and extremely limited medical and therapeutic value respectively, India had an obligatory pressure of reducing or prohibiting the use of Cannabis in the country.

Not to forget that Cannabis was added in the revised schedules by the UN under the compelling pressure of America only, who has now legalized Cannabis in 11 states for recreational purposes and 29 states for medical purposes. For 25 years, that is till 1985, India refused to stop the use of Cannabis for recreational purposes for common man as one can only imagine the amount of addicts who since ages used this cheap and not so harmful drug and now had nothing affordable to rely upon.

But under the International Convention obligation, India introduced this Act in 1985 which banned Cannabis and it's production, manufacturing, transportation, purchase and selling, and consumption. This Act was amended thrice, 1988, 2001 and 2014 when Cannabis was allowed for medical and research purposes though scientists and doctors still feel that the plant is not easily made available for such purposes.

About the NDPS Act, 1985

The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, also called NDPS Act, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 23rd August, 1985. After getting passed from both the Houses, it came into force from 14th November, 1985. The NDPS Act had a vision of making India free of drugs.

It was made to stop the rapidly increasing drugs mafia who were ruining the lives of many who didn't even know what kind of addiction they're falling into and where it would lead them to. The Act mentions various kinds of drugs, from simple soft drugs like Cannabis and Opium to hard drugs like Cocaine and heroin.

The preamble of the Act says that it is an Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to narcotic drugs, to make stringent provisions for the control and regulation of operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

Section 2, clause 3 sub clause 3 defines cannabis (hemp) as:

  1. charas, that is, the separated resin, in whatever form, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant and also includes concentrated preparation and resin known as hashish oil or liquid hashish;
  2. ganja, that is, the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops), by whatever name they may be known or designated; and
  3. any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of cannabis or any drink prepared therefrom;

Sub clause 4 defines cannabis plant as any plant of the genus cannabis

It also mentions the following drugs whose meanings are those of scientific researches and not the act itself-
Amphetamine - a chemical which stimulates the central nervous system made with two enantiomers called levoamphetamine and dextroamphetamine,

Cannabis (hemp) - a plant called as one of the five sacred plants by the Hindu religious Vedas, known to have caused no harm when used in moderation and is used in medicines as painkillers, cure cancer, and many more diseases,

Cocaine - it is one of the most dangerous drugs known to mankind, developed as a painkiller, it is almost impossible for anyone to be free of it's addiction once it takes hold of a person mentally and physically. Originally extracted from coca leaves, it is mixed with starch or talcum powder or even other drugs which make the survival of a person impossible on its overdose.

Codeine - It is an extracted drug from the plant of opium normally found in medicines as simple as cough syrups. Very easily addicted and abused drugs worldwide. It's addiction starts from a common prescription of a tablet or syrup for moderate pain or cough.

Heroin - An opioid drug made from morphine, extracted from the seed pod of opium poppy plants. Also mixed with cocaine and used. Highly addictive.

Chapter II of the NDPS Act, Section 4, Clause 2 sub clause b, states that the Central Government can take measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of preventing and combating abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and the illicit traffic through the obligations of the International Conventions.

Section 11 of the Act says that notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law or contract, no narcotic drug, psychotropic substance, coca plant, the opium poppy or cannabis plant shall be liable to be distrained or attached by any person for the recovery of any money under any order of any court or authority or otherwise. Section 14, Special provision relating to Cannabis says that, the Government May allow cultivation of any Cannabis plant for industrial purposes only for obtaining fibre or seed or for horticulture purposes.

Section 20 of the NDPS Act give the Punishment for contravention in relation to cannabis plant and cannabis - Anyone who cultivates any cannabis plant shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees; and Anyone who produces, manufactures, possesses, sells, purchases, imports inter-state, exports inter-state or uses cannabis, involving small quantity shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine up to ten thousand rupees or with both; involving more than small quantity and commercial quantity shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment up to ten and twenty years respectively, and with fine up to one and two lakhs respectively. This Act repealed the earlier Acts of Opium, 1857 and 1878 and also the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930 through Section 82 of this Act.

Flaws in the NDPS Act
The Act mentioned 77 names in the List of Psychotropic Substances under The Schedule. Unlike the Schedule released by the UN, this Schedule did not have any categorisation or classification of soft or hard drugs. Soft drugs are those drugs that are natural and non-synthetic in nature. They have low dependency rate and cause less harm to the human body. Hard drugs are artificial and synthetic drugs that are created in the laboratory with the use of dangerous chemicals and compounds.

They have a very high dependency rate and with some hard drugs it is almost impossible for an addict to live without it. This is the reason adding Cannabis and opium along with drugs has always been criticised. Cannabis is a natural plant or herb which is used to produce a fibre that has a psychoactive substance called THC. This unlike hard drugs is a natural drug used for recreational purposes without it causing any kind of overdose or permanent harm if used in moderation. Placing a soft drug like Cannabis has ever since been criticised.

Another reason this Act has been criticised for is it's s aim at reducing the supply and not the demand. This Act banned the production of the Drugs but it overlooked the people who had been using the drug for years and being a recreational drug they would need again. Since this cycle developed with many people, the drug mafia instead of collapsing, grew to a larger extent. The ones who used to once a month of once in a while, fell prey to drugs that gave them better effects than Cannabis and found themselves addicted to them in no time.

On the other hand, those arrested with Cannabis or any other drug, were not distinguished between casual smokers or hard drug addicts. Everyone was labelled as an offender under this Act and instead of being treated in hospitals, they ended up being treated as criminals. Even if people behind big scams or chains running drug businesses nationally or internationally were arrested, the drug businesses didn't stop, instead flourished.

The vision of the Act having to make India drug-free, resulted in a failure and instead succumbed to drug mafias and scams. Today Mumbai and Delhi stand one of the largest illegal markets for drugs. It is believed that there is over 60000 kgs of production of marijuana in Himachal alone, except for its production from Kashmir to Assam to Uthrakhand to parts of Punjab, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Hyderabad, Mysore and even parts of the Southern states.

Why is it difficult to make it legal again?

After the ban on Cannabis, the common man needed something to rely upon for it's needs for recreational purposes. The government left two options, liquor and tobacco. The ones who could afford alcohol and tobacco, resorted to it and the ones who couldn't, used their old forms of recreation, marijuana and opium, but the only difference was that these were now illegal. The NDPS Act benefited the Indian Government through the high revenue generated by Alcohol and tobacco and high taxes levied on it.

The Government and NGOs were and are not just benefited and sponsored by the Liquor and tobacco companies but the thought that a safer and cheaper drug like Cannabis wouldn't really create revenue of that level made it obvious for the government to not show interest in it's legalisation.

Though, for the record, America, after defying the Convention and legalising Cannabis in a few states has generated mind blowing revenue. By the end of 2020, it aims to have a $44 billion revenue generated just by the selling and purchase of Cannabis. Legalising Marijuana will not only mean creating a different and new market for this recreational drug, but also this being a low maintenance raw material for purposes like construction, plastic, oil and furniture will create revenue and boost the economy with less input and more output.

Why is legalisation of Cannabis being insisted?

One of the reasons why Asia and especially India has a big market of this herb is that the cultivation of this herb in Europe produces no narcotic principle. Whereas the cultivation of this herb in Asia has chief valuable fibre producing the priced narcotic principle. This gives us a good idea of how much revenue this herb can create when legalised.

America, under whose pressure India had banned this priced herb, now has legalised it in 11 states for recreational purposes and in over 33 states for medical purposes. Just alone California had generated 411.3 million in excise tax, 98.9 million in cultivation tax, 335.1 million in sales tax in less than a year of legalising marijuana.

By 2020, the use of hemp in making products of daily use such as plastics, food supplements and body care products will account for 44billion of the market in the US. Legalising marijuana has not only helped boost the economy of America but it has in fact proved the increase in gross happiness index. There are over 40 countries where marijuana is legal and it is found that these countries have a better gross happiness index.

Politicians who support it's legalization

Maneka Gandhi, BJP MP said that countries like the US where marijuana is legal has resulted in reduced drug abuse.

Tathagata Satpathy, Orissa MP, admitted that he himself has smoked cannabis many a times. He also mentioned that cannabis had been given a bad name and that alcohol is far more dangerous.

Dr. Atul Ambekar - He says that, if the keeping of softer drugs such as cannabis is de-criminalised, we can prevent the stigma, the discrimination and the progression to harder drugs.

In July 2017, a retired cardiologist and an MP, Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi introduced a private member's bill which was passed by the Legislative Branch of Parliament. The bill sought an amendment to the NDPS Act where he has asked the Parliament to make the natural and soft drugs, Cannabis and Opium, legal and available to common man for recreational purposes.

He mentioned that according to the statistics of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), 88% of the arrests on the basis of NDPS Act are of drug users and not of those who trade drugs illegally, while 2% of the arrests were of the distributors and traffickers while none of the people who carry out drug trade at a large scale or the ones who finance them are arrested. He also said that since the common man's recreational drugs were made unavailable, the more newer, more potent, dangerous and alternative drugs flooded the market.

He highlighted the War on Drugs' which led to the establishment of dangerous drug mafias that destroyed numerous lives hence violating human rights. Dharmavir Gandhi in his interview to News18, said that he wants to legalise cannabis.

He further elaborated that soft drugs are a part of cultural history and do not lead to an abusive lifestyle or rise in crime. He believes that the current law governing narcotics has only helped the case of the drug mafia and has helped proliferation of more harmful drugs like cocaine, smack and heroin.

He added, Even after 35 years of Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 , it has failed to achieve the objectives for which it was passed. Neither could it make India a drug-free nation nor it was able to curtail the dangerous network of drug mafias across the nations and the globe.'

Romesh Bhattacharji, Former Commissioner of Central Bureau of Narcotics, mentioned that, This is a good move, and this needs to be debated in the face of such stiff ignorance which often takes root in the moral high grounds people take after being influenced by the UN conventions. This law has been victimising people since 1985.

The Great Legalization Movement is a legal battle carried out by a youngster, Viki Vaurora, to legalise this herb for medical and industrial purposes. He is working in order to spread awareness about sustainable hemp-based products instead of environmental damaging products.

In 2017, a PIL was filed in the High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla by Deshindar Khanna, who asked for the legalization of this plant. In this PIL, he mentioned that Section 10 of the NDPS Act, gives the state government the power to decide the limits within which licenses may be given for its cultivation; which has never been used and no rules or regulations have been made by the State of Himachal to facilitate medical or industrial use of hemp.

He also mentioned that allowing Indian farmers to cultivate hemp will give them a stake in the $1.5 trillion hemp industry currently dominated by China, France and Germany. Regularizing the plant could create an industrial hemp textile market in India that could be valued at an estimate of R.240 million.

He went on to say that the need of the hour is to take control of the plant from the drug mafia and give it to our scientists, doctors, textile manufacturers and other relevant industries. He stated that by reducing the content of TCH (0.3% to 1.5%) in the plant and providing such modified seeds, will make the plant unusable by the drug users as it diminishes the psychoactive effect of the drug.

( as stated in the above mentioned PIL)
  1. Hemp is a great substitute for cotton.
  2. Paper - The amount of Paper trees produce on 2 to 4 acres of land, Hemp paper can be generated of the same amount on one acre of land.
  3. Hemp Fibreboard - A better substitute for wood, lighter and stronger.
  4. Hemp Plastic - Strong, durable and environment-friendly.
  5. Hemp Fuel
  6. Hemp with lime create a chemical bond similar to cement which is fire and water proof.
  7. Used for Horticulture.

Medicinal Uses
( as stated in the above mentioned PIL)
  1. Pain-relief
  2. Arthritis
  3. Diabetes
  4. Glaucoma
  5. Tuberculosis
  6. Cancer
  7. Increase in Lung Capacity
  8. Epileptic Seizures
  9. Chemotherapy
  10. Alzheimer's Disease
  11. Inflammatory bowel diseases
  12. Parkinson's Disease
  13. HIV
    And more.

Profit over health. Alcohol v/s Marijuana

The Indian government clearly focuses on the cartel alcohol and tobacco industries and the high taxes and revenues enjoyed by it. We are not saying that marijuana is good for health and should be consumed by everyone, but the question we raise is that alcohol causing the death of one person every 6 minutes in India remains to be perfectly legal when marijuana least likely to cause a death as compared to alcohol still remains illegal.

As a matter of fact, it is not the less harm of alcohol and tobacco that keep it legal in our country, but the revenue generated by it. Today, even for a day when alcohol shops were opened during the times of lockdown for the safety of people from Covid-19, government in Delhi levied 70% of what it calls corona tax due to the overcrowding at alcohol shops.

We don't call for a ban on alcohol instead of marijuana but it's a point to be focused upon that when alcohol stands as a reason for domestic violence, increase in crime rate and even death rates, why is it that Cannabis in banned among hard drugs unclassified? Countries where marijuana is legal,it has been observed that alcohol consumption reduced, consumption of painkillers reduced by 15%. Studies show that marijuana is 114 times less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

Hypothetically, if marijuana hadn't been prohibited, the society wouldn't have accepted alcohol and tobacco as much as it has presently which in fact is not just a more harmful choice but even more expensive. The government would be enjoying higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco but it is only at the risk of the health of the addicts who had to turn to the more fatal options like alcohol than marijuana which was easily available and didn't affect a person fatally.

According to CDC reports, there are 88,000 alcohol related deaths every year. Binge-drinking accounts for half of these deaths. According to, Alcohol causes more damage to the brain than cannabis.

Ruben Baler, a health scientist at National Institute of Drug Abuse, says, You can die due to binge-drinking five minutes after you've been exposed to alcohol. That it isn't going to happen with marijuana. The impact of marijuana is much subtler.' He further states that, Marijuana affects the cardiovascular system, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, but a person can't fatally overdose on pot like they can with alcohol.' As mentioned before, Marijuana or some parts of the plant have various applications as treatment for cancer, HIV and Alzheimer's disease.

Gary Murray, acting director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said that Alcohol is more likely than marijuana to interact with other drugs. The way that alcohol is metabolised, or broken down, in the body, is common to many drugs that are taken for a variety of conditions. This means that for people taking drugs or medications while drinking, the alcohol can increase or decrease levels of the active drug in the body.

The introduction of the NDPS Act did envision a drug-free nation but it's not so empathetic structure approached addicts not as patients who needed to be pulled out of a vicious cycle of drugs but merely as criminals.

When one says that we will have more drug addicts once Cannabis gets legalised, I would like to tell them that liquor and tobacco are legal and there is still 71% of the population of India that does not smoke tobacco and 20% of the Indian population has not consumed alcohol more than once in their life.

They say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When alcohol and tobacco have already become the style symbol of many in India, there are some who believe that Cannabis could be much safer. But can a drug be a safer option? I leave it on the readers to decide.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Pavithricchha Kaur Kapoor

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