Atharva Veda-Samhita (Book 11, Hymn 6, Verse 15)
पञ्च राज्यानि वीरुधां सोमश्रेष्ठानि ब्रूमः।
दर्भो भङ्गो यवः सह ते नो मुञ्चन्त्व् अंहसः॥
“To the five kingdoms of the plants which Soma rules as Lord we speak.
Darbha, hemp, barley, mighty power: may these deliver us from woe.”
Cannabis has been part of Indian medicinal and spiritual culture traced back to Veda, one of the first religious book in the world. The Vedas, collection of hymns and other ancient religious texts written in India between about 1500 and 1000 BCE. Atharva Veda not only mentions Cannabis to be one of the five sacred plants but signifies cannabis leaves as the guardian angel. Other references alluding to the ancient historical use of Cannabis in the ancient Indian culture can be found in Rig-Veda, Sushruta Samhita and the Mahabharata. India were the pioneers in Cannabis usage as enhancement of lives since ages.
The “Atharva Veda” is an ancient Hindu scripture and is one of the four Vedas commonly known as the fourth Veda. Sometimes it is called the “Veda of Magical Formulas,”. Unlike the other three Vedas (Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda), the “Atharva Veda” is not as concerned with sacred rituals, but addresses the daily problems of Vedic people. From these texts, it is quite evident that India was one of the first countries in the world where Cannabis was a way of life.
Cannabis formed an integral part of ancient Indian system of natural and holistic medicine known as ‘Ayurveda’. In Ayurveda, it was used to improve memory, against leprosy, and many other things. When translated from Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “the science of life”. The knowledge of Ayurveda was passed on orally through a lineage of sages in India until it was collated into text more than five thousand years ago. The Ayurvedic tradition recognizes marijuana (known as vijaya in Sanskrit) as a medicinal herb.
Cannabis in India is deeply rooted in cultural, tradition and religion. When religious texts, scriptures and legends promote the use of cannabis, it becomes pretty hard to argue with that logic. As a result, legal or not cannabis has always been a part of Indian history.
So How and When Cannabis became an illegal substance in India?
Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report, 1894
It all began when British came to India. They were concerned by widespread use of cannabis in the country. They understood the intrinsic value of the Indian sacred plant and decided to document the use of Cannabis in India. This interest resulted in the compilation of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report in year 1894. The motive for the report was to research into the cultivation of the cannabis plant, preparation of drugs from it, trade in those drugs, the social and moral impact of its consumption, and possible prohibition.
However, the findings from the report were far from what the British could imagine. It was found out that in moderation, the use of cannabis was harmless, and plans to prohibit the substance were shelved. “To forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so gracious a herb as cannabis would cause widespread suffering and annoyance,” concluded the report. Though, the report’s findings were not enough to prevent the weed ban in the country.
Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
The global movement towards the Cannabis ban was set in motion in 1961 with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in year 1961 which was the first-ever international treaty to have clubbed cannabis (or marijuana) with hard drugs and imposed a blanket ban on their production and supply except for medicinal and research purposes. However, an opposing delegation, which India was a part of, opposed the move given that charas, bhang and ganja were heavily used in the country.
But due to immense international pressure, the Indian government had to compromise. India promised to limit the export of Indian hemp, on the condition that the definition of cannabis under the convention would be altered. (Just imagine where would India be in Global Hemp Market with a rich history with Cannabis)
Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985
The final nail in the coffin for cannabis ban in India was hammered in 1985. The 1961 treaty had given India 25 years to clamp down on recreational drugs. Due to immense pressure from the “ War on Drugs” campaign led by President Nixon in the US, the Rajiv Gandhi led government had to pass the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985.
This Act has been the source of controversy for years. NDPS specified that cannabis meant charas (the resin extracted from the plant), ganja (the flowering or fruiting tops of the plant) and any mixture or drink prepared from either of the two permitted forms of marijuana. It 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, essentially sparing the leaves and seeds from the stigma of being classified as contraband.
The act considered Cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes such as making industrial hemp or for horticultural use as legal in India. The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances even recognizes cannabis as a source of biomass, fibre, and high-value oil.
With all these findings, we can very well comprehend that Cannabis was never completely outlawed in India and has been an integral part of Indian’s medical system since centuries.
The Current scenario:
The first step towards legalisation of cannabis cultivation in India was taken in 2010, when the Textile Ministry passed a Natural Fibre Policy, in which it identified the growing demand for hemp fibre. As per the policy, Uttarakhand, which has a tradition of growing hemp, was declared a nodal state for hemp promotion by the ministry. In a first, the north Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand has legalised the cultivation of cannabis. However, unlike United States where the government has legalised smoking marijuana, in Uttarakhand the farmers are allowed to cultivate cannabis purely for industrial purposes.
Cannabis Usage Data:
A 2019 study conducted by the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences reported that about 7.2 million Indians had consumed cannabis within the past year. According to the UNODC’s World Drug report 2016, the retail price of cannabis in India was US$0.10 per gram, the lowest of any country in the world.
This article has been compiled by Hemant Nav Kumar, Founder U Turn Foundation. UTF is a Uttarakhand based Non Profit which has been working since last 5 years for making Hemp an integral part of Livelihood opportunities in the state. It has associated with Companies, organizations, entrepreneurs, farmers and International Hemp Businesses for creation of Uttarakhand as Hub of Hemp in India. The UTF’s Hemp initiative is gaining strength and is known as ‘ HEMPSTERS HUB’.