Union Women & Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi suggested that marijuana should be legalized for medical needs in India. Such a modification would reflect a sophisticated, drug policy that takes into cognisance medical data and international trends. In the US today more than half the states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In fact, a report of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine which analyzed more than 10,000 scientific studies on marijuana found strong evidence of the organic drug helping in the treatment of chronic pain, nausea after chemotherapy, and some symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
There’s no reason why Indian administrators shouldn’t take a similar informed approach to marijuana and even legalize possession of small quantities of the mild intoxicant for recreational use. All the more so because the consumption of marijuana and other cannabis derivatives such as bhang dates back hundreds of years and has strong roots in Indian culture. Till 1985, marijuana and cannabis derivatives were legally sold in the country through authorized retail shops. However, the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act in that year – done under the US and international pressure – clubbed marijuana with hard drugs and made all illegal.
Now that opinion and trends with respect to marijuana are reversing in the US and other countries, India should follow suit. Besides, several studies have shown that moderate consumption of marijuana is far less harmful than tobacco and alcohol. If the latter can be sold over the counter, the same standards should be applied to marijuana as well. Plus, decriminalizing marijuana use will prevent people from graduating to harder drugs that should remain proscribed. The distinction between the two will also help unclog our prisons that are bursting at the seams. Hence, a liberal approach to marijuana coupled with a greater focus on de-addiction for hard drugs must be the way forward.