Op-Ed: Is It Time to Revisit The Ban on Marijuana?

Talk of marijuana/cannabis/pot/grass – better known as ganja in India – and the image that most people conjure up is one of a group of rickshaw pullers puffing away merrily on their chillums by the roadside. Those who smoke the stuff are seen as losers in life trying to cope with their frustrations and disappointments. Notwithstanding the fact that there are plenty of ganja smokers who have done well for themselves in their chosen field, there is a class dimension to it when describing weed smokers. Ganja has been erroneously dubbed, at least in India, as a ‘poor man’s intoxication’. [May be the fact that it is cheaper than other forms of intoxication has something to do with it.] Worse still, ganja is viewed as an unmitigated disaster that destroys lives, ruins families and has a debilitating impact on the health of the user.

But is ganja really that bad? Are there no redeeming features? Is there a case for lifting the ban on ganja imposed since 1985 that has been flouted with impunity?

Before you crucify me for voicing these questions, please listen to what Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent of CNN, has to say on the issue. In an essay on the CNN website under the title “Why I changed my mind on weed” on August 9, 2013, Dr. Gupta actually ‘apologizes’ for an article “Why I would vote No on pot” in Time magazine four years before. “I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. XXX I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.” They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.” Surely, Dr. Gupta could not have been ‘high on marijuana’ while writing this!

You don’t even have to go by what Dr. Gupta says. Just google it and you will get to read the findings of several peer reviewed scientific papers that bust some popular myths about this recreational drug; ganja is highly addictive (it is not), it is an unmitigated disaster for the human body and could even kill the user in the long run. While it is true that overuse/abuse of pot can indeed mess with your memory and emotions, its medicinal uses have forced doctors worldwide to change their views about it. In an article published on April 21, 2014, Business Insider lists no less than 23 ‘benefits’ of ganja. Among other things, it can control epileptic seizures and stop cancer from spreading. According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2013, marijuana helps metabolism in the human body. Contrary to the popular belief that marijuana is disastrous for the lungs, another study published in the same journal found that it actually does the exact opposite by reversing the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and ‘improving’ lung health. No wonder the illogical ban on marijuana is being revisited worldwide. In US, marijuana is now legal in some form or the other in 46 states while recreational use is legal in 10 of them. Among countries, Uruguay was the first to legalise marijuana in 2013 and several countries have followed suit or are planning to do so.

The irony of it! Even as state after in the USA is legalising marijuana, India, which criminalised its possession and consumption with the passing of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 primarily under US pressure, continues to have the ban in place. But it hasn’t made a difference on the ground and weed smokers continue to get their stuff – and smoke it too – without too much hassle, making a mockery of the ban. Even more ironical is the fact that government policy continues to promote the sale and consumption of liquor, which has been scientifically proved to be much more harmful and addictive than the former.

Mercifully, there has been a concerted move of late to get the ban lifted. Union minister Maneka Gandhi and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor have batted strongly for allowing medicinal use of marijuana while our very own Tathagat Satpathy have been at the forefront of the campaign to allow its recreational use.

India has a long history of marijuana use, both for medicinal and recreational purposes. Atharva Veda lists Cannabis Sativa (its botanical name) among the five most ‘sacred’ plants that liberates humans while it is regarded as the penicillin of ayurveda.

With the scriptural prescription now backed by scientific evidence, it is about time the government of India considered lifting the irrational ban on ganja.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).

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