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Legalization of Medical Marijuana in India – The case in favour of cannabis

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Legalization of Medical Marijuana in India

More States are passing laws to legalize trade, consumption and possession of Marijuana. Of late, a few states have legalized medical marijuana and have realized its uses in therapeutics. India passed Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985 thereby vigorously curtailing and regulating trade, possession and cultivation of narcotics, cannabis being one of them. However, since cannabis sativa is available in India without any hitch, therefore it is strenuous for police to regulate its consumption and trade.

In this paper, I aim to establish why medical marijuana should be legalized in India. In order to prove my hypothesis of legalization of medical usage of Marijuana in India, I have looked into the salubrious effects of Marijuana and how these effects help in ameliorating mental health of an individual. Furthermore, I have analyzed laws related to legalization of Marijuana across the globe by citing examples of the United States of America, the Netherlands and Uruguay. Lastly, I have taken considered the fact that similar to opium, the government can assume ‘responsible drug policy’ and limit growth and usage of Marijuana and this entire regulated activity shall not only curtail trade of adulterated Marijuana but also generate revenues.

The term medical marijuana refers to using the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom[i]. Marijuana plant contains chemicals, for example, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) that can be beneficial to treat a range of illnesses or symptoms. Of late, there has been advancement of Marijuana laws in several legal systems. Countries like Uruguay and the Netherlands (bars trade in marijuana) have legalized Marijuana in totality; several nations have taken a leap by recognizing the medicinal use of Marijuana.

Global Analysis of Legality of Marijuana

Since 1996, 23 American states, such as Colorado, Alaska and Puerto Rico have legalized medical cannabis as well as recreational use of cannabis. States have legalized marijuana despite the fact that possession or consumption of marijuana is an offense under Federal law.

Economic Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana

 Legalizing Marijuana not only has health benefits but also economic gains. Colorado and Washington have been taxing Marijuana heavily.  Both Washington and Colorado charge a 25 percent tax on pot sales, with even higher rates in some municipalities. The non-partisan Tax Foundation has estimated that Colorado will bring in nearly $70 million in new taxes[ii].

Similarly, Netherlands has generated almost $600 million in marijuana sales[iii]. Marijuana is now the third most exported crop in the Netherlands. If we take large number of cancer and mental health patients in India, it can be estimated that India shall also generate humongous amount of revenues by legalizing medicinal marijuana. .

Austria, Canada, Italy and Portugal etc. also permit the medical use of Cannabis.

Medicinal Use of Marijuana

Medicinal form of marijuana is not only effective in relieving pain arising from chemotherapy but also from long term-conditions such as glaucoma and nerve pain. Doctors, in the state where marijuana has been legalized, have been using it to treat muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, effects of contagious viruses such as HIV, seizure etc[iv]. Though the human body synthesizes chemicals similar to marijuana, marijuana sometimes help those natural chemicals work better. Medical marijuana is inhaled, smoked, eaten or taken as a liquid extract. However, it at times causes dizziness, drowsiness, short-term memory loss and euphoria. These symptoms are generally short lived however; there are more serious side effects too which includes psychosis and anxiety[v].

Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as a pharmaceutical. However, FDA’s disproval of medicinal marijuana has not come in the way of its legalization. FDA requires clinical studies in large number to determine risks and benefits of marijuana as a recreational drug and this has not happened so far[vi]. Though organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, Minnesota Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine have not affirmed the therapeutic use of cannabis plant due to lack of proper research in this field. However, they have not discarded medical efficiency of THC which is an active chemical in Marijuana[vii].

Laws pertaining to Marijuana in India

Possession, consumption and trade in Marijuana are illegal in India under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 and Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. NDPS was passed to satisfy India’s treaty obligations under the United Nation’s Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Though the act was amended in 2014 and the government adopted a new category of ‘essential narcotic drugs[viii]. However, cannabis was not included in the same. The 2014 amendment has broadened the object of the bill. Now, it is to prevent illicit use of drugs and to also promote the medical and scientific use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances[ix]. This 2014 amendment has opened the way for research and medical use of marijuana. However, NDPS is a penal statute, therefore, any step in legalization of Marijuana shall have to be affirmed by the Parliament.

Almost 1-2 percent of India’s population suffers from major mental disorders and 5 percent of Indians have minor depressive disorders[x] One in every four Indian is affected by anxiety disorder[xi]. Marijuana has known to treat the symptoms of anxiety and depression patients. Every year over seven lakh cancer patients are registered in India and almost three million Indians have cancer[xii]. Chemotherapy is one of the most effective treatments to contain rapid growth of malignant cells. However, one of the side effects of chemotherapy is extreme pain. Legalization of marijuana for medicinal use in India shall not only help these cancer patients to mitigate pain from chemotherapy but shall also be a less expensive and better choice when contrasted with sedatives and analgesics.

Adoption of ‘Responsible Drug Policy’

Drug laws in India are archaic and outmoded. NDPS is not only extremely harsh but also too ideal to be effective. The minimum sentence for drug dealing is 10 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. However, the minimum punishment for rape in India is seven years.

Drugs and laws, together, engage a genuine question of civil liberty, health and equity in a cardinal way that cannot be disregarded and regulated by archaic and utopian laws. It is high time that the government relaxes the provisions of NDPS with respect to medicinal usage of Marijuana.

Instead of taking up a rehabilitative approach against the offenders, the act takes retributive approach thereby severely negating the human rights of an individual and his odds to rehabilitate.

Taking example of cultivation of Opium in India, in which alkaloid morphine is an active ingredient, is not only freely licensed but is also used for medicinal purposes.  Because of the responsible usage and curtailment by Government, Opium not only generates revenues for the government but also is imported globally as a medicine. Restrictive usage of Opium has led to availability of unadulterated Opium grown by licensed farmers.

The 2014 amendment of the NDPS has paved a way for Government to cultivate and commercialize Marijuana as a medicine. Like Opium, the legislators can come up with a restrictive and responsible policy for consumption, trade and usage of Marijuana as a medicine. This shall not only help several mental health and cancer patients but shall also be available in unadulterated form. Apart from this, certain parts of India are geographically suitable to grow good quality cannabis. By legalizing medicinal usage of Marijuana, there will be curtailment of illicit trade and consumption of marijuana and also, government will be able to generate revenues from trading it. .

 By adopting a ‘responsible drug policy’, the government can take a step further and legalize medicinal usage of Marijuana.

[i] What is Medicinal Marijuana? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.

[ii] Shane, Scott. Why Colorado and Washington Were Wise to Legalize Pot? Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230942.

[iii] Europe: Dutch Marijuana Tax Revenues at $600 Million a Year, Crop Is Country's Third Largest Export. Retrieved from http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2008/may/09/europe_dutch_marijuana_tax_reven.

[iv] Welsh Jennifer and Loria Kevin. 23 Medical Uses of Marijuana. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.in/23-Medical-Uses-Of-Marijuana/articleshow/34015633.cms?format=slideshow.

[v] Payne, Cathy and Healy Michelle. Marijuana’s Health Effects: Memory Problems, Addictions. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/06/nih-marijuana-effects/1751011/

[vi] ibid.

[vii] American Society of Addiction Medicine Rejects Use of 'Medical Marijuana,' Citing Dangers and Failure To Meet Standards of Patient Care. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/american-society-of-addiction-medicine-rejects-use-of-medical-marijuana-citing-dangers-and-failure-to-meet-standards-of-patient-care-118534464.html.

[viii] http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-narcotic-drugs-and-psychotropic-substances-amendment-bill-2011-1988/

[ix] Parliament Passes the NDPS(Amendment) Bill, 2014: many gains; some losses. Retrieved from http://www.lawyerscollective.org/updates/parliament-passes-ndps-amendment-bill-2014-gains-losses.html.

[x] Jha, Neeti. High Anxiety. April 13, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/High-Anxiety/2014/04/13/article2161024.ece.

[xi] Iyer, Malathy. One of Every Fpur Indians Affected by Anxiety Disorders, 10% are Depressed. Oct 6, 2013. The Times of India. Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/science/One-of-every-four-Indians-affected-by-anxiety-disorders-10-are-depressed/articleshow/23599434.cms.

[xii] Retrieved from http://cancerindia.org.in/cp/index.php/know-about-cancer/statistics.
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