India is no stranger to the usage of narcotic substances as one of its central festivals, Holi has popularized marijuana in the form of ‘bhang’ or ‘thandai’. Even though the substance has been declared to be unlawful under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, different states have their own laws relating to consumption, possession, sale, or purchase of weed or marijuana. Therefore, the legality of marijuana in India is thus a disputed topic of discussion as it is lawful in some areas, limited in others and completely prohibited in the rest.
The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotic Substances Act, 1985
Cannabis was classed with hard drugs in the 1961 International Treaty ‘Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs’. However, India had certain social and religious customs involving cannabis and thus negotiations were made and ‘bhang’ was left out from the definition of “cannabis”. This allowed India to carry on the tradition of large-scale consumption of bhang during Holi. Moreover, India was given a period of 25 years to clamp down on recreational drug use. Consequently, the Indian government passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985, just a year before the end of this exemption period.
It must be noted that the act banned the production and sale of cannabis resin and flowers, but permitted the use of the leaves and seeds, allowing the states to regulate the latter. Section 20 of the NDPS act deals with the offenses related to the consumption, cultivation, possession, use, sale/purchase, import/export, transportation and warehousing of cannabis, except for medical or scientific purposes.
As mentioned before, certain States in the country have their own provisions regarding the use, sale, and possession of the substance which allows the same either absolutely or partially. For instance, Odisha is a state in which marijuana has been declared legal and people commonly consume the substance in different forms within the state’s territory. Additionally, Uttarakhand is the first state in India to allow commercial cultivation of Hemp. The richness of the crop along with its low maintenance requirements have urged a lot of States (especially hilly areas) to consider legalizing the cultivation of marijuana.
On the other hand, there are certain state laws that limit marijuana sale and consumption to a large extent. The Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act, 1958 bans the sale, possession, purchase, and consumption of marijuana and bhang within the territorial jurisdiction of the Assam State government. Furthermore, The Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 also prohibits the manufacture, possession, and consumption of bhang and bhang-containing substances without a license in Maharashtra. In 2017, the State government of Gujarat also legalized bhang by removing it from the list of “intoxicating drugs” covered by Section 23 of the Gujarat Prohibition Act.
To sum up, it would certainly be wrong to say that marijuana is absolutely illegal in India as its legality seems to be rather ambiguous at the time. The Central government is also shifting towards progressive laws relating to the use of marijuana such as the National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances which recognizes cannabis as a source of biomass, fiber, and high-value oil. Therefore, when considering the legal provisions relating to marijuana in India, one must make it a point to be incredibly specific in order to achieve clarity on the subject.