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This article is written by Khyati Basant, pursuing BBA LL.B from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article talks about marijuana laws in India as well as some other parts of the world.


Marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the world with more than 20 million people consuming it every year in one form or another.

Marijuana (cannabis) is a physio-pharmaceutical drug. It comes from the cannabis plant that can be used for medical and recreational purposes. The main psychoactive component of cannabis is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The highest concentrations of THC are found in the dried flowers, or buds.

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To a botanist, marijuana traces its origin from a plant known as Cannabis Sativa. To a chemist, marijuana is a type of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) psychoactive drug. Marijuana is contraband to a drug officer. For public policy graduates, marijuana is the subject of a controversy that has been raging for the last 50 years.

Marijuana may be used as a cigarette, or in a pipe, or in a bong (called a joint or a nail). It can be smoked in “blunts” which are cigars drained of tobacco and replenished with marijuana. Many users often blend in or use marijuana to brew tea. Vaporizers are also popular with people who do not want to inhale smoke. The machines concentrate the marijuana THC into a storage container, and then the user inhales the vapour, not the smoke.

When drug smoke is inhaled, THC rapidly flows through the bloodstream from the lungs and is transported across the body to the brain and other organs. THC from marijuana operates on different receptors in the brain, called cannabinoid receptors, beginning a series of biochemical reactions that eventually contribute to the euphoria, or “hot” felt by consumers. There may be a sense of a comfortable mind, euphoria and an increased sensory awareness.

Cannabis has been in use in India since 2000 BCE. Popular words for cannabis preparations in Indian culture include charas (resin), ganja (flower) and bhang (seeds and leaves), with Indian beverages such as bhang lassi and bhang thandai being one of the most common legal uses. Its plant has been used for manufacturing clothes, shoes, ropes, and paper.

In 2019, All India Institutes of Medical Sciences estimated that over 7.2 million Indians have used cannabis in the past year. The survey “Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019” by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment showed that 3% of Indians aged between 10-75 years were active cannabis users.

The first thing that clicks on our minds when it comes to drug use in India is Lord Shiva. Maha Shivratri festival is celebrated with weed being given to Lord Shiva. The festival makes Bhang’s use appropriate, as the Hindu scriptures claim that bhang is used to purify the Lord Shiva elixir of life that he produced from his body.

Following the Opium War, which was a Chinese fought civil war, marijuana became popular. It is believed that before going to the frontline, soldiers would smoke marijuana, thus, the word “Opium war” originated. Scientists then discovered opium plants having medicinal components in it and began to extract those components for medicinal purposes. Opium still has common use in the medical industry.

There is an ongoing controversy on whether marijuana use should be legalized. A few nations, however, have allowed marijuana usage so far: not just for medicinal purposes, but for general use much like tobacco. From both the science and the economic viewpoint, marijuana appears to have significant benefits, but many people interpret its benefits from a societal context that makes it seem unethical. Nevertheless, marijuana remains a highly productive ‘crop’ which, like any other Agricultural crop grown elsewhere, carries economic and health benefits for its human use.

In most countries the use of cannabis for recreational purposes is prohibited, however, others have implemented a decriminalization program to make the simple possession a non-criminal offence. The legalization of cannabis for medicinal and recreational use varies from country to country in terms of ownership, distribution and cultivation, and the mode of its consumption and for what medical conditions it can be used. Such measures are governed in most countries by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, adopted in 1961, along with the Psychotropic Substances Convention of 1971, and the Convention against Illicit Trade in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.
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Regulations for marijuana ban in India

You’ll be surprised to hear that cannabis and opium were legal in India before the 1980s, and were sold in Government shops. You just needed to get a Government doctor’s license and you could buy Marijuana in the country lawfully.

The fact that marijuana is illegal does not seem to stop Indians from smoking up a doobie. A Seedo report ranked Delhi and Mumbai among the top 10 cities in the world with the largest cannabis (marijuana or weed) intake per annum. 

So how did it manage to get banned in the first place with the past association of the country?

Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report, 1894

Indian Hemp Drug Commission Report was an Indo-British study of cannabis usage in India. By the 2nd of March 1893, the United Kingdom House of Commons became concerned about the effects of hemp products in the Bengal Province of India. The Indian government assembled a committee of seven representatives to investigate these issues, starting their report on July 3, 1893. Lord Kimberley recommended that the scope of the inquiry be amended and extended to cover entire India.

Fearing that the plant’s excessive and uncontrolled use could be harmful to the people, they wanted to record the cannabis usage in general. The study was to look at cannabis plant production, drug manufacturing from it, trafficking in such drugs, the social and moral effects of its use, and potential prohibition.

And the report’s conclusions were far from what the British believed it should be. This was discovered that cannabis use was beneficial in moderation, and attempts to outlaw the drug have been shelved. The study concluded that forbidding, or even severely limiting, the use of a herb so generous as cannabis would cause widespread discomfort and annoyances. It showed that this would affect the moral, mental and physical health of the consumer.

Though this was not enough to ban marijuana in India. Excessive use can be regarded as quite injurious, but it has to be acknowledged that the injury is not clearly defined in many excessive customers. However, the harm incurred by inappropriate use is limited to the individual himself. The effect on society is scarcely appreciable. Finding how little the effects of hemp drugs have obtruded themselves on observation which has been the most striking feature of this enquiry.

Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was an international treaty banning the development and sale of certain (nominally narcotic) drugs and drugs with similar effects for particular reasons, such as medical care and science, except under license.

The 1961 Convention was the first foreign treaty ever to have clubbed with hard drugs cannabis (or marijuana) and placed a blanket ban on their production and sale, except for medical and research purposes.

India agreed to restrict Indian hemp exports, on condition that the Convention’s definition of cannabis will be modified and allow the official meaning of bhang to be left out. This small reform is the main explanation why, following a ban on cannabis in general, you can still find people consuming bhang during Indian festivals.

Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985

The treaty of 1961 had granted India 25 years to fight back on recreational drugs. In 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi led Government passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act under intense pressure from the US-led “War on Drugs” campaign headed by President Nixon.

The country’s last nail in the coffin for marijuana prohibition came in 1985.

This prohibited the manufacture and selling of cannabis resin and flowers, but permitted the use of leaves and seeds, allowing states to control the latter, effectively avoiding the stigma of being labelled as contraband.

The act declared cannabis cultivation legal in India for industrial purposes such as producing industrial hemp or for horticultural use. The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances now acknowledge cannabis as a source of high-value oil, biomass, and fibre.

Under Section 2(iii) of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 cannabis (hemp) means:

  • Charas which is the separate resin, whether in crude or distilled form, obtained from the cannabis plant and also includes condensed preparation and resin called hashish oil or hashish liquid.
  • Ganja is the cannabis plant’s blooming or fruiting tops (excluding seeds and leaves when preceded by the tops).
  • Any mix of any of the above-mentioned types of cannabis or any drink prepared from that spot, with or without any neutral materials.

Drugs, such as opium, LSD, and cocaine, and marijuana are banned in India due to its strong potential for trafficking, little therapeutic usage, and significant health concerns.

Bhang is not protected by the definition of cannabis (hemp) as specified in Section 2(iii) of the 1985 NDPS Act. The act only forbids the use of certain sections and cannabis plant preparations, including hash resin produced from the plant, or its buds. The act provides for the use of the plant’s leaves, the exact feature that is used in bhang.

In the case of Arjun Singh v State of Haryana, the Chandigarh High Court claimed that, according to the NDPS Act, bhang is not “cannabis (hemp)” under the Statute, but is a “cannabis plant.” Thus, it is not unlawful to eat cannabis leaves under the rule.

The exception under NDPS Act

  • Officers: Officers acting in good faith in the execution of their duties under the Act are free from claims, indictment and other legal proceedings (Section 69).
  • Addicts: Addicts charged with drug use (Section 27) or crimes involving minor quantities will be exempt from punishment if they agree to De-addict themselves. This immunity will be revoked unless the abuser undergoes complete care (Section 64A).
  • Offenders: Federal or state governments may tender an offender’s immunity to secure his testimony in the case. The government provides this privilege, and not the court (Section 64).
  • Juvenile offenders: Juvenile offenders (under 18 years of age) are accountable to the Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Child Safety Act, 2000). This is an Act to reform and update the legislation on minors in accordance with the legislation and children in need of care and security, by ensuring appropriate care, safety and therapy by contributing to their welfare needs, and by following a child-friendly policy in adjudicating and disposing of matters in the best interests of children and in their overall recovery. 


The Great Legalization Movement

The Great Legalization Movement India (GLM India) is a non-profit organisation aiming at legalizing cannabis use in India for medicinal and commercial purposes.

The campaign has long tried to improve how Indians speak about cannabis, seeking to eliminate the stigma surrounding the drug. The group has been leading the way when it comes to drug legalization in India from the Cannabis conventions, web series creation, and also lawfully challenging the NDPS Act at Court.

The Delhi High Court in the summer of 2019 accepted a writ petition filed by GLM demanding the decriminalization of cannabis under the NDPS. The case may be the trigger point which starts the campaign to legalize marijuana in India with the next date scheduled for 2020.

Punishment for marijuana possession 

In India, possession of banned drugs (weed or marijuana) is an offence under the NDPS Act. The object of drug trafficking is meaningless, and the sentence depends on the number of drugs in trafficking. If a person is caught with drugs or found to be a drug user, whether he/she willingly wants to undergo de-addiction therapy, he/she will not be subject to charges.

Section 20 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 covers charges related not only to the intake but also to the production, possession, use, sale/purchase, import/export, transport and storage of cannabis, except for medicinal or scientific purposes.

  • For possession of small amounts (100 grams for charas and hashish, 1000 grams for ganja), a fine of 10,000 rupees or 6 months to 1 year in jail.
  • If anyone is found in commercial amounts (1 kg for charas and hashish, 20 kg of ganja), the court will spend up to 20 years in stern jail and pay a fine of two lakh rupees.
  • Under Section 20, a penalty of up to one lakh rupees and strict imprisonment up to 10 years can be imposed in the case of cultivation.
  • Section 25 states that if a person knowingly permits the use of his / her premises to commit an offence under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 he/she will be deemed as punished under Section 20.
  • Section 28 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act deals with drug attempts, abetment and criminal conspiracy.
  • Courts may also penalize a repeated offender for 30 years of imprisonment at their discretion. Giving out a mandatory death penalty for repeated offences in cases of drug trafficking in large amounts is also not mandatory.

Advantage of Marijuana

Certain benefits of marijuana cannot be misled:

  1. Medicinal value – Studies have shown that there are scores of health benefits to marijuana use. It treats glaucoma, prevents the spread of cancer to other parts of the body, decreases anxiety, delays the development of Alzheimer’s disease, increases metabolism and is even known to spur innovation in our brain. Smoking marijuana not only relieves the patients with serious diseases, but it also helps to avoid disease if smoked or treated with great caution, it also has significant benefits for regular citizens. Many of the benefits of marijuana include medical breakthroughs but its advantages in a country’s economy are another benefit that many people do not take into account.
  2. Less Harmful Than Alcohol – Marijuana is much less harmful than alcohol, as it does not make the person aggressive, reckless or uncontrollable like alcohol. It makes a person calmer and more polite and its ethical senses do not impede him. Besides, marijuana addiction is uncommon, contrary to common stereotypes, and only 9 % of people are seen as a victim of the same. Compared with drug abuse this level is much lower. When the selling of alcohol in the country is legalised, marijuana still has a fair chance for the same.

Disadvantage of marijuana

Cannabis once eaten has both psychoactive and physiological effects. Other than this, a subjective alteration in vision and, most importantly, mood, the most common short-run physical and neurological symptoms reflect elevated heart rate, elevated appetite, lowered blood pressure, short-term weakness, and contents and coordination imbalances. The results of the long run are less evident. In humans, the use of chronic cannabis documents comparatively few adverse clinical health effects.

  1. Dizziness and Migraines – People suffer from the light spell of dizziness and in some moments, severe headaches are the direct consequence of using marijuana. In this context, drug use can also be deadly, because most people go straight to the driving seat after cannabis is taken. Although laws are in place to discourage people from driving under the influence of drugs, however, it is difficult to determine what impact a person has, and sometimes the dizziness can be mild, but sometimes it can be to the point that a person loses control and can trigger a major accident.
  2. Respiratory issues – The carcinogens that damage the respiratory system are one of the active ingredients in marijuana. You expose your lungs to the high volume of smoke that is rich in carcinogens, while you smoke the pot. While casual users may suffer chronic cough and other forms of respiratory problems, frequent users may risk their lives as the use can lead to cancer and various life-threatening conditions
  3. Creating dependency – While many people consider the drug as harmless or claim to take it in moderation, all medical evidence has shown that marijuana will eventually carry the individual into a state where he becomes a drug abuser. The argument that came out of various research is that all long-term marijuana users develop a drug habit, and they would find it difficult to give up smoking marijuana. Many who seek to give up cannabis at the later stage will experience serious symptoms of withdrawal including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and frequent fits of rage and emotional outbursts.

Countries which have legalised marijuana

There are only 4 countries in the world that have legalised cannabis (marijuana) for recreational as well as medicinal purposes. Countries that have approved cannabis medical usage include Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Northern Macedonia, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland, Thailand and the UK.

Marijuana in Uruguay 

Uruguay has become the first country in the world to launch a national, legally regulated retail market for non-medical cannabis cultivation and supply, and it aims to set a strong example. Government policies are driven by concerns about insecurity and public health and therefore, seek to minimize crime and violence by depriving organized criminal organizations of cannabis market influence. Policymakers don’t want a free-for-all, so the market is going to be tightly regulated with very limited commercial participation. Initially, only two companies can manufacture cannabis to sell to registered Uruguayan residents through approved pharmacies to registered over-18 Uruguayan residents and all promotion is banned. Cannabis is not available for sale to tourists.

In June 2012, under President Mujica, the Uruguayan government announced plans to legalize state-fixed cannabis purchases to counter drug-related crime and health concerns Mujica’s proposal will encourage consumers to grow the plant for non-commercial use and offer licenses for larger-scale cultivation to skilled growers. The program involves a network of; consumer register, taxes, and quality control all organized through the current tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical monitoring department.

He also said that Uruguay wants to make a ‘contribution to society’ by legalizing marijuana, but if the ‘experiment’ goes down, it will backtrack.

The regulating authority is by The Ministry of Public Health through the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA). The law seeks to minimize the benefit that drug trafficking makes for organized crime, as well as to minimize drug-related violence and associated social problems. Uruguay has one of the lowest killing rates in the world (although, according to some figures, crime increased marginally in 2013).

Marijuana in Canada

Cannabis is legal in Canada, both for recreational and medicinal purposes. The medicinal usage of cannabis was legalized federally on 30 July 2001 under the conditions set out in the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, subsequently superseded by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations The Federal Cannabis Act came into force on 17 October 2018 and made Canada the second country in the world after Uruguay to officially legalize the cultivation, possession, acquirement of cannabis.

The Cannabis Act provides a clear legislative structure for the regulation of cannabis cultivation, distribution, sale and possession throughout Canada. The Act seeks to accomplish 3 objectives:

  • keeping cannabis out of the hands of young people 
  • keeping money out of the pockets of offenders 
  • protecting public health and safety by enabling adults to purchase legal cannabis

No person may sell or provide cannabis to any person under the age of 18. In the Cannabis Act, the possession restrictions are based on dried cannabis. For other cannabis items, alternatives were created to determine what their possession cap would be. One (1) gram of dried cannabis is equivalent to 5 grams of fresh cannabis, 15 grams of edible product, 70 grams of liquid product, 0.25 grams of concentrate (solid or liquid), 1 cannabis plant seed. For example, an adult of 18 years of age or older can have 150 grams of fresh cannabis legally available.

Marijuana in Georgia 

Cannabis in Georgia is legal in terms of possession and use, following a decision by Georgia’s Constitutional Court on 30 July 2018. Cultivation and cannabis sales remain illegal.

While Georgia has historically had very stringent cannabis usage rules, the Peach State allows quite restricted use of the drug. House Bill 1, also known as the “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” requires qualifying patients to possess a small concentration of THC (which causes the “high”) cannabis oil. As this field of law and policy continues to evolve, this is subject to change.

Georgia drug laws remain fairly stringent, but many state counties have alternative sentencing services for criminals, seeking counselling rather than prison time. In Georgia, possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is a felony punishable by one to ten years in jail. Savannah region has decriminalized marijuana use, effective July 1, 2018. This means that, instead of prison, first-time offenders will be offended (like a speeding ticket), with a maximum fine of $150. Alternatively, those who can not afford to pay can conduct community service.

In October 2015, Georgia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the practice of the country’s constitution covering incarceration for personal cannabis usage was “too rigid” and required to be modified. The Court further ruled in December 2016 that imprisonment for the use of small quantities of cannabis, as well as their purchase, retention and production for personal use, was unconstitutional.

Marijuana in South Africa

Until recently, all marijuana use, also known as dagga, was completely illegal in South Africa. But in 2017, a Western Cape High Court judge ruled that the ban on personal and private use of marijuana in South Africa was a violation of the country’s constitutional right to privacy. In 2018, South Africa decriminalized marijuana usage, possession and development. Public smoking among non-consenting adults and minors is not allowed and may result in heavy fines or incarceration. In South Africa personal use of marijuana is legal. In 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that consuming, possessing, or cultivating cannabis in private use is no longer a criminal offence for an adult. 

In February 2020, in a preview of the Cannabis Bill, South Africans looked at the legislation being debated. The bill, which is the first since decriminalization in 2018, states that South Africans may own up to 600 grams per person, with up to 1,200 grams per household per person. Public ownership is limited to a maximum of 60 grams. The bill is currently pending approval by the Cabinet before it goes to Parliament and will be put forward for public consultation by September 2020. In South Africa, CBD (cannabidiol) is legal. In May 2019 the Department of Health announced that CBD goods may be legally obtained as long as the recommended daily dose of 20 milligrams is not exceeded.

Countries other than India where marijuana is a banned substance

Marijuana in Afghanistan 

Marijuana or cannabis is illegal (be it in recreational use or medical use) in Afghanistan. The Counter Narcotics Drug Law (2005) states that anyone found with less than 10 grams of cannabis is subject to one to three months’ imprisonment, and a fine of 5,000 to 10,000 AFN. If found with more than 10 grams, the person is subject to the same penalties as those caught on the drug trafficking. That is one to three years in prison, with a fine of between 50,000 and 100,000 AFN.

Though cannabis is strictly illegal, Afghanistan is the source of some of the most common marijuana in the world. Afghanistan is one of the world’s biggest cannabis producers. Afghan regulation doesn’t discriminate between cannabis and CBD. CBD is still prohibited in the country as well, and can not be used, purchased or sold.

The legislation makes no difference between cannabis (which has a ‘high’ amount of THC) and hemp (which has no such property). As a result, hemp production in Afghanistan is illegal although it does not have any psychoactive effects.

Marijuana in the United Arab Emirates

Cannabis is prohibited for medicinal as well as recreational purposes in the UAE. Industrial hemp can’t be legally grown and simply having cannabis traces in your system can land you in prison. If you are caught in cannabis possession, you might be sentenced to four years or more in prison. The law states that it is not possible to bring, import, export, manufacture, extract, separate, produce, possess or take the substance. 

In the Emirates you can not lawfully market or consume cannabis, so the penalty is more serious than for possession. Section 46 of the Anti-Narcotic Psychotropic Substances Act specifies that the sentence of incarceration shall be enforced on criminals for a term not less than 10 years and not longer than 15 years.

CBD oil is considered a narcotic medicine and is prohibited in the UAE. That is the case even though, for example, you have a prescription from your home country and you fly to the UAE for a holiday. Cannabis cultivation is illegal and is not popular in the UAE. Few rare instances of the plant being grown, though. In 2011, for example, eight Bangladeshi men were arrested for cultivating cannabis in a vegetable patch in Umm-al-Quwain. A man from Asia (who resided illegally in the country) was then caught growing cannabis at Ras al-Khaimah in 2013.


Marijuana in Russia 

It’s illegal to possess, sell or grow cannabis either for medical or recreational purposes in Russia. The country has the highest number of people incarcerated for drug offences in Europe (per capita), and most were imprisoned.

Russia’s government is taking a stern line on drug possession or use. Both are unconstitutional, according to Article 228 of the Criminal code of the region, and are punishable by a fine and/or a jail term. Up to six grams of possession is considered an administrative crime. Anything more than seven grams is a criminal offence.

The following fines can be levied for large-scale possession- a fine of up to 40,000 roubles, the equivalent value of three months of the offender’s wages/wage, mandatory service for up to 480 hours, corrective service for up to two years, restriction or denial of liberty for up to three years.

Both cannabis products in Russia are illegal, no matter how much THC (the drug that is responsible for the ‘high’) they contain. As such, individuals can not own, sell or purchase any of the country’s CBD goods.

Conclusion and Suggestions

Marijuana is relatively less harmful than other serious drugs like morphine, cocaine, LSD, ayahuasca and alcohol. Reports also claim that the rest of the energy taken by drugs contributes to physical aggression while marijuana serves to give the comfort and relaxation of the senses.

India has never seen cannabis as poorly as several other countries around the world. As such, one day the government can likely want to re-legalize it. Certainly, the country is taking positive measures towards promoting the legalization of medicinal cannabis, and it looks as if the industrial hemp industry will expand too.

I believe after the research that marijuana should be legalised in India. The reason is:

  1. It will increase government revenue – Taxing weed would add massive sums of money to the government. It will lead to a rise in the growth of GDP.
  2. Support for the locals – Marijuana is the only source of income for many locals in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where cannabis plants grow. As a controlled substance, however, the farmers are forced to sell it to the drug traffickers at a very low price and they face extra harassment from the authorities, who are charged to kill the cannabis plants.
  3. It is less harmful than alcohol – Consumption of marijuana has never been considered much more than consuming alcohol as a morally aberrant activity. It was seen as an ‘enlightened perspective’ to hold it legal. Marijuana is currently scientifically proven to be less dangerous than alcohol. Stoners, unlike alcoholics, don’t engage in reckless behaviour or abusive fights. Under the influence of weed, they appear to be clammy and friendly.

Few more points must be considered while legalizing marijuana. The Government should make regulations that a person above 25 years of age should only possess marijuana for recreational use. A certain amount (5-6 gram) of the drug should be used personally. If any person is found to have more than that amount should be punished strictly. A moderate amount of marijuana will not pose much threat.



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