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What the law has to say about Medical Cannabis in India.
Let’s get to the point.
Section 8 of the NDPS Act prohibits the cultivation of any cannabis plant for reasons other than medical and scientific purposes.
To elaborate, the cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes such as making industrial hemp or for horticultural use is legal in India. The Government of India encourages the research and cultivation of cannabis with low THC content. Which is what we call CBD.
However, NDPS 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.
What’s Medical Cannabis as per law. Let’s understand.
NDPS Act defines cannabis by its two main outputs. The unrefined or purified resin, called Charas, is obtained from the cannabis plant. It includes concentrated preparation or resin called liquid or hashish oil. The second is Ganja. The flowering or fruiting top excludes seeds and leaves which does not belong to the top part.
Cannabis is the flowering or fruiting top of the Cannabis plant, from which the resin has not been extracted.
Now, these flowers and resin of the cannabis plant, are banned by the NDPS Act. On the other hand, the hemp plants or the leaves and seeds of the cannabis plant are exempted. The good news is, the elements of Cannabis that contain all the therapeutic properties are present in these leaves and seeds. They include cannabinoids such as CBD and THC, that help in giving relief from various ailments. And as per the NDPS Act, the use of these for medical and scientific purposes is legal. The Government of India encourages the research and cultivation of cannabis with low THC content.
When did NDPS act come into being?
Before 1985, cannabis in all forms was legal in India. The consumption of Cannabis (Ganja) and its resin (Charas) became a punishable offence in India in 1985 after the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. It was brought into force after the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, which came into effect in 1975.
Bear in mind that when we talk of cannabis being illegal in the paragraphs below, we talk strictly of the fruiting top of the plant.
What the courts have said.
A plea filed by the Great Legalisation Movement India Trust before the Delhi High Court remains pending since 2019. The plea challenges the prohibition and criminalization of the use of cannabis in India. The plea states that while enacting the NDPS Act, Parliament did not take into consideration the positive effects of cannabis on human health and the history of use of cannabis in India (which finds mention in the Vedas. We will touch upon this point later in the piece).
In 2015, The Bombay High Court pointed out that without being experts in the field, it could not examine the technical data regarding useful effects of Ganja etc. Therefore, it advised the petitioner to raise the issue in Parliament.
In fact, a petition praying for the removal of restrictions on cultivation, processing and use of industrial and medical hemp in the State of Himachal Pradesh is pending before the State's High Court. This petition cites extensive scientific data as well as the relevance of cannabis in local culture to highlight the significance of the plant and its regulated cultivation.
India voted for the legalisation of cannabis at the UN.
At the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2020, India voted in favour of legalising cannabis. Not only India, but many other countries also voted in its favour. The majority vote in favour of reclassifying cannabis has opened the window of opportunity at the global level to accept and bring to mainstream the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the drug. However, an amendment to the NDPS Act needs to be brought into force to impact domestic laws banning it.
As stated before, pre the NDPS ACT, cannabis use or consumption was not illegal in India. It’s as old as Indian civilisation. use of cannabis goes back After the 1961 convention, the United States began a “war on drugs” and campaigned for stringent drug laws to be implemented globally. India strongly opposed stringent measures in light of the cultural significance of cannabis use in India. With the exclusion of bhang from the definition of cannabis, India eventually brought forth legislation in line with the Convention.
Cannabis is ancient. Finds mention in the Vedas.
Cannabis sativa is one of the ingredients that was used to prepare soma in the Vedic period. Soma was an intoxicating ritual drink that finds mention in the Rigveda. Atharvaveda mentions bhang as one of the five sacred plants that relieve anxiety. Sayana interpreted bhang as a type of wild grass, but many scholars identify bhang with cannabis.
Garcia de Orta, a botanist and doctor, wrote about the uses of cannabis in his 1534 work Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs and Medicinal Matters of India and of a Few Fruits. To quote Garcia "I believe that it is so generally used and by such a number of people that there is no mystery about it.” According to him, bhang was used to improve work and appetite. Fifteen years later Cristobal Acosta produced the work A Tract about the Drugs and Medicines of the East Indies, outlining recipes for bhang.
Furthermore, Cannabis Medicines have been a substantial part of Ancient Indian Ayurvedic practices. Ayurvedic doctors strongly recommend the use of Cannabis for healing purposes. So, the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) also backs Medical Cannabis, adding more support to its legal backing.
Only a few companies have been given the license to distribute Cannabis Medicines in India. Anybody who is above 21 years ago age can get these medicines either by uploading a doctor's prescription or after an online consultation.
The World Health Organisation says that the therapeutic effects of Cannabidiol (a compound of cannabis) include relief from nausea and vomiting in the advanced stages of illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Further, other therapeutic uses of cannabinoids are being demonstrated by controlled studies, including treatment of asthma and glaucoma, as an antidepressant, appetite stimulant, anticonvulsant and anti-spasmodic. However, it was emphasised that more research is needed on the basic neuropharmacology of THC and other cannabinoids so that better therapeutic agents can be found.
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