The issue of legalising cannabis in India is something that members of the Indian Parliament have been talking about for some time now. Last year, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi extended her support for legalising marijuana for medical purposes. But she isn’t the only politician to do so. Dr Dharamvir Gandhi, a Member of Parliament from Patiala, has petitioned to legalise the possession as well as consumption of marijuana in India along with that of other ‘non-synthetic’ intoxicants. Currently possession, trade, transport and consumption of marijuana (among other narcotic and psychotropic substances) is banned under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985 is a criminal offence.
In 2017, Dr Gandhi moved a private member’s bill to legalise the recreational use of marijuana, earning the support of late actor and BJP MP Vinod Khanna as well as Tathagata Satpathy, a Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP from Odisha. When it comes to the support of legalising marijuana, Satpathy stands first. In 2014, in during a Reddit AMA, he revealed that in Odisha, he had smoked cannabis many times as a college student. The MP, who is the owner and editor of leading Odia daily Dharitri and English daily Orissa Post, only last year wore a kurta made from hemp (a variety of cannabis) to the Lok Sabha. Both Gandhi and Satpathy have voiced their support of legalising marijuana a number of times in the last couple of years.
Satpathy pointed out in an interview with TOI, “In Odisha, people smoking chillum is a common sight and not something you notice, just like someone drinking water or tea.” According to him, it is only a matter of concern if a particular intoxication overpowers one’s life. He is also of the opinion that the criminalisation of cannabis possession and consumption is ‘elitist’, since the rich aren’t eyed the same way for a glass of wine held in their hand.
The private member’s bill suggests some changes to the NDPS Act. One of these is to separate of the clubbing of ‘soft’ intoxicants from artificial ‘hard’ drugs like cocaine, heroin and smack. This petition is also supported by Romesh Bhattacharji, former Commissioner of the Central Bureau of Narcotics. In an interview with News18, he revealed that more than half the people who were put behind bars in Punjab between 2001 and 2011 under the NDPS Act were merely poor people in the possession of soft drugs.
In an interview with HT, Gandhi said, “The petty traditional drug users are turning to the easily available and aggressively marketed, addictive and dangerous street drugs.” According to him, if the NDPS Act is amended to permit cheap, regulated and medically supervised supply of traditional and natural intoxicants such as ‘afeem’ (opium) and ‘bhukki’ (poppy husk) to be made available, fewer people would move towards dangerous and harmful intoxicants.
Satpathy also pointed out that in 2015 the ban on sale and possession of soft drugs and natural intoxicants like bhang and cannabis lead more people to turn to alcohol. Whereas, alcohol has a higher incidence of addiction of 16 per cent as compared to cannabis, which is 9 per cent.