Apple country Himachal Pradesh gets ground ready for cannabis cultivation

Growers are upbeat and optimist about getting an economic boost, but the concerns and its multiple effects on society cannot be ignored.

September 10, 2023 03:26 pm | Updated 10:49 pm IST - CHANDIGARH

Image for representational purpose only.

Image for representational purpose only.

With the Himachal Pradesh government inching closer to legalise cannabis (hemp) cultivation in the State, growers are upbeat and optimist about getting an economic boost, even as the concerns and its multiple effects on society cannot be ignored, including allurement among adolescents and youth towards the use-abuse of cannabis, the nexus between illegal producers and suppliers of cannabis getting stronger, the risk of pilferage, and the occurrence of amotivational syndrome.

A committee comprising lawmakers that explored the possibility of legal cultivation of cannabis has recently recommended cultivation of ‘non-narcotic use of cannabis for medicinal, industrial, and scientific use’.

Hemp is a botanical class of Cannabis sativa cultivars grown specifically for industrial or medicinal use. It is produced in parts of Himachal Pradesh though it is illegal under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985.

An approval from the State Cabinet is awaited after which a policy is expected to be framed soon by the State government on cannabis cultivation keeping in view the provisions of NDPS Act, 1985, and NDPS Rules, 1989.

Even as there has been a growing concern surrounding the drug menace, State Revenue Minister Jagat Singh Negi, who headed the five-member committee, asserts that the government is committed to curbing it and that while steps are being taken in this regard, the cultivation of cannabis will be limited to only industrial, medicinal and scientific use. The policy on hemp cultivation for medicinal, industrial, and scientific would pave the way for utilising the medicinal properties of cannabis to treat patients, besides raising revenue for the State from the products made of hemp, according to the Minister. Also, allowing cannabis cultivation would reaffirm the government’s commitment to safeguarding the interests of the farmers, who have been long demanding to lift the ban on cultivation.

The NDPS Act of 1985, imposes a ban on extracting the resin and flowers from the plant, but the law determines the method and extent of its cultivation for medicinal and scientific purposes. Section 10 (a) (iii) of the Act empowers the States to make rules regarding the cultivation of any cannabis plant, production, possession, transport, consumption, use and purchase and sale, and consumption of cannabis (except charas). States are empowered to permit, by general or special order, the cultivation of hemp only for obtaining fiber or seeds or for horticultural purposes. In 2017, Himachal Pradesh’s neighbour Uttarakhand became the first State in the country to legalise cannabis cultivation. Besides, controlled cultivation is also being done in some districts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

‘95% addicts in Himachal use cannabis’

Ranjit Singh Ghuman, currently a professor of eminence (economics) at Guru Nanak Dev University in Punjab’s Amritsar, recently headed a study titled ‘Dynamics of Drug Addiction and Abuse in North West India: Social, Economic and Political Implications’ commissioned by the Indian Council of Social Science Research and completed at the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development. This study points out that approximately 95% drug addicts in Himachal Pradesh are using cannabis and its by-products such as marijuana, hashish, charas and ganja/hemp, etc.

“Not indulging into the government’s arguments for legalising the cultivation of cannabis, it is likely to encourage adolescents and youth towards the use and abuse of cannabis. It may, however, help drug addicts to shift from the use of more harmful drugs to less harmful drugs but there is a very high probability that it may end up in life-long addiction. The State may get some additional revenue but if drug addiction and abuse rise because of legalising the cultivation of cannabis then the drug-addicted youth’s potential of socio-economic contribution to the state shall be an uncalculated loss in the long run,” he said.

Dr. Ghuman added “There are some fundamental causes, such as unemployment and poverty, behind the prevalence of drug addiction and abuse. Besides, the nexus between illegal producers and suppliers of cannabis, and politicians is promoting the use of cannabis and its by-products. What is the guarantee that such a nexus will not get stronger in case cannabis cultivation is legalised? Instead, there is a need to curb the supply of drugs and address the socio-cultural, economic and political factors behind the demand for drugs.”

‘Multiple effects likely’

Expressing similar concerns, Sandeep Bhola, an internationally certified addiction professional, who is a technical expert and master trainer for United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and National AIDS Control Organisation, said legalising cannabis could have multiple effects on society. “As has been the case with alcohol, in the present system we won’t be able to keep it controlled. There will be chances and risks of pilferage at every step. Cannabis is known to cause psychiatric symptoms in the users which may be temporary and with prolonged use these may become permanent. Amotivational syndrome is known to occur with cannabis use, in which the loses interest as well as the strength to do any chores. Serious psychotic symptoms are known to occur with cannabis use,” says Dr. Bhola.

On the other hand, Dharamvira Gandhi, a former Member of Parliament from Patiala in Punjab, who in 2016 presented a private member Bill in the Parliament to amend NDPS Act 1985, seeking to decriminalise opium, marijuana and poppy husk, has welcomed the decision. He asserts that the NDPS Act has produced results contrary to the desired results.

“The NDPS Act was enacted in order to meet the then United Nations Conventions on Drug Policy in the year 1985. The objective was to prevent rampant drug use in society. Most drugs were made illegal. Anyone found using or possessing such substances was prescribed harsh punishments, and large amounts of money was invested in the enforcement of drug restrictions and punishments handed out herewith...But the war on drugs had led to the creation of a dangerous drug mafia, hundreds of scores of human rights violations and innumerable precious lives destroyed. As the common man’s recreational substances were made unavailable, the newer, more potent, addictive and dangerous alternative drugs flooded the markets. Heroin replaced opium, cocaine replaced cannabis, and so on. As the drug business involves huge super profits, on one hand it creates rivalries spilling into gang wars and on the other hand it promotes ruthless and aggressive marketing, thus pushing more and more people into the drug world. Consequently, the petty traditional drug users are turning to the easily available and aggressively marketed more addictive and dangerous street drugs,” he said.

Hemp’s many uses

Cannabis has been growing in Himachal Pradesh for decades, and those in favour of its cultivation point out that hemp is a plant that has multiple uses ranging from phytoremediation, fiber-cloth manufacturing, medicinal use, and use in the pulp and paper industry, however, due to the recreational use of its products as ‘charas’ and ‘ganja’ the positives of this sturdy plant has been overlooked. “Himachal Pradesh, being a pioneer in horticulture, has identified the monetary benefits, the cultivation of this plant possesses. Kewal Singh Pathania, a member of the committee says that hemp cultivation can play a significant role in generating revenue for the hill State, and its cultivation will not only ensure the locals an alternative source of income but will be beneficial for patients as it has many medicinal properties and can be used for industrial purposes.

As he highlights the traditional usage of cannabis, Lal Singh, Director of NGO Himalayan Research Group that is a part of the government of India’s Department of Science and Technology Core Support Programme of Science for Equity Empowerment and Development, says as of now it is not clear how and what products will be produced, but if the proposed plan helps in providing economic and livelihood benefits to the local population without narcotic use it is a welcome step.

“Cannabis is a versatile plant and was cultivated for its fibers and seeds by the household in the temperate zone of Himachal Pradesh. The ban deprived the population of the main source of fiber and seeds (free of narcotic substances) used as food. Banning compelled the local population to invest cash for procuring ropes from markets that are mainly of plastics and eroded the local tradition of preparing ropes and sleepers. In Cannabis male and female plants are separate. The fiber of female plants is fine like silk which is harvested immediately after pollination and female plant fiber is coarse since this is allowed to mature for harvesting of seeds. Female plant fiber is used for making thick ropes used for tying livestock, and collecting fodder and fuel from forest. Male plant fiber is used for weaving sleepers in Kullu and Mandi and other mountain areas of the State. Seeds are dry roasted and mixed with salt to make stuffing for fermented bread and maize bread. Balls of dry-roasted cannabis seeds with jaggery are famous preparations during the winter season. This plant grows without any inorganic inputs and irrigation with good adaptability in the temperate zone,” he said.

Even as the debate continues on cultivation and regulation, concerns related to its abuse, and diversion of cannabis for illicit purposes, besides negotiating a balance between access for medical purposes and its preventing misuse call for an all-inclusive regulatory framework.

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