Published in The Times of India | November 12, 2012
With two US states – Washington and Colorado – voting to legalise the recreational use of marijuana, a similar liberal approach towards mild intoxicants in India is up for debate.
Consumption of marijuana and other cannabis derivatives such as bhang dates back hundreds of years with strong roots in Indian culture.
From being the indulgence of baul singers of Bengal to the festival of Holi, marijuana use has rarely been seen as deviant social behaviour in Indian society.
In fact, till 1985, marijuana and other cannabis derivatives were legally sold in the country through authorised retail shops.
However, the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act in that year – carried out under pressure from the US – pushed the marijuana trade underground. This in turn pushed consumers and dealers towards harmful drugs such as smack, that had higher profit margins but far worse health implications.
Given that studies across the world show that moderate consumption of marijuana is far less harmful than tobacco or alcohol, it makes little sense to uphold the ban on its recreational use.
Of course, excessive consumption of marijuana can be detrimental. But that’s also true of alcohol – banning which is seen, rightly, as impractical.
If tobacco and alcohol can be sold over the counter and consumers expected to use their discretion regarding their use, there is no reason why the same policy cannot be adopted for marijuana.
Besides, the benefits of medical marijuana are widely acknowledged, which bolsters its credentials as a mild drug. Taken together, an enlightened drug policy that legalises marijuana is needed to stop the spread of more dangerous intoxicants.