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After Delta-8 Are Constructive Decisions On The Legality Of Cannabis An Improbable Goal For India?

Decriminalizing the possession, consumption, growing and sale of cannabis in any form is an ensuing battle against the legal system in many countries. Though a countable few have legalised cannabis for medicinal purposes and a smaller few for recreation, the battle of legal acceptance is a difficult dream for India. Keeping in mind the medicinal and industrial values of cannabis, and with the onset of the 'almost' recent debacle regarding Bollywood and the ample recreational use of ganja, the need for a constructive outlook on marijuana decriminalization has never been more important. India holds marijuana close within its history of religion and society. The use of Bhang or smoking ganja has been mentioned in old texts.

Delta-8 - What And Why Has It Made The News?

Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol or simply THC is the principal psychoactive (that gets you high) compound found in cannabis. Recently, delta-8-THC, a similar cannabinoid, is amassing great interest from buyers as well as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). An isomer of THC, delta-8 has the same chemical formula, but a different structure; making it chemically more stable than its counterpart. Delta-8 is surprisingly potent and readily available in the legal hemp market in the US. The Farm Bill 2018 had made commercial production of hemp with little to no traces of THC legal for industrial and research purposes. Thus, the cannabis entrepreneurs craftily exploited the loophole and made available products containing delta-8.


According to US statistics, between December 2020 and July 2021, emergency and poison control centres have dealt with numerous patients needing care after ingesting delta-8 products. 18% of those cases were admitted to intensive care units, while 39% of those cases involved people below the age of 18. This is a serious rising concern, for delta-8 products are also sold as gummies, which are a hit among the young. Many consumers have admitted to their ignorance about the 'psychoactive' properties of delta-8.


The Start To Ban Of Cannabis

COLONIAL INDIA

During the colonial rule in India, the British received much of their revenue through the Indian ganja and opium trade. Both were cash providing crops, but once the British recognised the high demand for opium in the Chinese market, profits increased overnight. By 1843, opium became their second-largest source of income. Concerned with the increasing demand for opium and the use of hemp-related drugs in Bengal, the UK House of Commons ordered the formation of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission. The Commission was sent to carry out a seven-month-long survey on the cannabis situation in India. Thus, though cannabis wasn't the chief concern, it became the proxy for opium in the study.


An eight-volume long report was filed on the effects of cannabis with statements from witnesses and users. But on cross-checking of facts, the claims about mental health aftereffects due to hemp drugs weren't transparent enough. In fact, the occasional use of hemp in moderation was beneficial, however, in the medication sense only. Thus, instead of prohibition, the Commission recommended licensed traders and standardised taxes. This was a set rule carried out even after independence until the 1961 NDPS Act.

Cannabis
Pic credit: Wikimedia, Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report 1893-94 front cover

HARRY JACOB ANSLINGER

Anslinger was the face of the Drug War in the US. He served as the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and held his office for 32 years until 1962. He supported the concept of prohibition and lead harsh anti-drug policy campaigns. Famous for his ruthless laws bestowed onto marijuana users and in particular his hatred for men of colour, Anslinger had power for he was backed by a parade of politicians.


As many African-Americans used marijuana as a relaxant, Anslinger vehemently believed that the safety of the white American women and children was at stake. He detested Jazz and the upcoming proud rebelling voices of the Black community. Anslinger reigned with terror and hard-headed bigotry. His most atrocious attitude towards creating a compelling crime case against Jazz genius, Billie Holiday for her revolutionary song Strange Fruit, will forever be etched in the pages of history. Anslinger's effects on the international fight against drugs could have been in a positive light had he changed his single-track racist attitude and actions.

Harry Anslinger
Pic credit: Wikimedia, Harry Jacob Anslinger

HIPPIE MOVEMENT

The 1960s and 70s saw the onset of the hippies' counterculture movement, which started as an opposition to mainstream American culture. Harry Anslinger had resigned from his post and no longer held office. But he had birthed enough doubts into the minds of the public. People fear change. Anything that is not the norm means evil. The fact that the hippies learnt to live their lives by stripping away social, economic and cultural barriers was abrupt and indigestible for the public. This made the American federal government hell-bent on curbing the hippie motion and with it, the usage of cannabis (popularised by the hippies for its psychedelic and therapeutic properties).


Hence, the government found an illogical claim to ostracize the hippies' free will and peaceful temperament, blaming cannabis as a delusional drug. The US, with the aid of the UN, set up an international treaty of Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (SCND) in 1961, and successfully branded marijuana as a 'hard drug'.

Hippie
An Old Van Covered In Hippie Art

NDPS ACT

America's anti-drug campaigns were elaborate and involved prohibition. Since years past, the media had conveniently diverted the public's attention from the ongoing government shambles and involvements in foreign wars and diffused their attention towards the non-conforming section of people. They incited hate against their own men, men of colour who paid taxes and worked for the country. Thus, in the 80s the federal government finally, addressed the long-overdue hippie motion and cannabis ban. US president Ronald Reagan spurred the worldwide campaign war on drugs and pressurised countries to ban marijuana production and trafficking as a stringent resort to solve the drug situation in America. Cannabis was legal in India until 1985 when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi passed the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act.


Social Image Impact On Indian Pop Culture Exhibit

My very first interaction with the concept of a chillum and ganja smoker came through the movie Haré Rama Haré Krishna. Zeenat Aman and the historic song Dum Maaro Dum will always rule hearts. But what got me interested besides the hip melody was the hippie culture that was extravagantly portrayed. The movie was a message aimed towards the then rampant and legal consumption of marijuana and the onset of the westernised hippie decadence influencing the young public.


Times have changed and so has the view of the public. Throughout the long-standing history of Indian cinema, the use of cannabis had been depicted in a negative light. But since the 2000s, the Film Censor Board rarely expurgates scenes of marijuana use for recreation. In a way, it portrays the change in society's view, as people used to demonise ganja and its users a few years back. Explicit shows of merry moods surrounding these scenes have boosted the off-screen use of the drug as well. It is the very inspiration for the well-loved, hip trippy song Baba Ji Ki Booti from the movie Go Goa Gone, believed to be the first stoner comedy in Indian cinema.

Hare Rama Hare Krishna
Movie Poster Credit: IMDb Official Website
Stats And Science

Evidence suggests that cannabinoids are known to alleviate the condition of patients suffering from cancer or chronic pain. CBM (cannabis-based medicines) have been tested and shown commendable results as a treatment for certain psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, social anxiety, ADHD, insomnia, depression and schizophrenia.


Statistics and studies clearly indicate a more prominent use of cannabis for recreation and pleasure than medicinal. However, at times the line is thin and blurred. Clinically the definition of abuse and dependence on cannabis is hard to bifurcate. A patient might be dependent on the drug for pain relief, similarly, a recreational user for pleasure. The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines cannabis use dependence (CUD) based on a list of symptoms dictated by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). If a user within a year gets clinically diagnosed for impairment or distress as a manifestation of the long list of symptoms, he is termed a dependent and needs medical attention.


According to a journal paper on CBM and CUD, it was found that there are notable differences between a medicinal user and a recreational user based on the mode of administration, doses, form in which consumed and other setting factors. The variation of these aspects can bring about a variation in the degree of dependence. Studies suggest that the probability of a recreational user becoming dependent after lifetime exposure is 8.9% which is considerably lower than other hard drugs. Additionally, the CDC states that there has been no case listed for death by continued use of marijuana or overdose. Hence, it is safe to state that cannabis is of more use than harm.


Cannabis And India

Cannabis is mainly consumed in three forms: charas (hash or dope), bhang and ganja (marijuana or baba). In the 2019 report, Magnitude of substance use in India carried out by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, about 2.8% i.e. 3.1 crore individuals in the age group 18-75 were cannabis users. The survey was carried out during the time period December 2017 to October 2018. It was found that the state with the highest percentage of cannabis use was Sikkim at 7.3% with the national average being 1.2%. Sikkim was followed by Nagaland and Odisha with 4.7% and 4.5% of users. At the national level, 0.66% of the people needed help from their cannabis dependence. In 2019, the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board marked India amongst the countries with the greatest extent of illicit cannabis cultivation and production.


The NDPS Act had banned the use of cannabis resin and buds, but not the leaves; meaning bhang, which is made from the leaves of the dioecious plant, remains legal and the authority to regulating the consumption, production, distribution is left entirely onto the state governments. But sales can be made only through government authorised shops. This is the fact that supports what the survey concluded; bhang (2.02%) had the highest percentage of consumption rate among people rather than illegal cannabis products, ganja (1.21%).


Keeping aside the illicit use of cannabis, India's socio-cultural history has troves of knowledge and instances where cannabis has been used as a medicine to treat various illnesses. Thus, it is arguably one of the oldest medicines in the world.

Hempstreet is India's first and largest research team on the cross-link between Ayurveda and cannabis. With a vast network of 60,000 Ayurveda practitioners, it aims to tackle ailments through cannabis-based medication. Besides the medicinal and recreational use, the Indian fashion industry has ventured into the hemp scenario. BOHECO had pioneered the move back in 2013. It is an Agro-based enterprise that works towards sustainable production and consumption of hemp as a fashion fibre. Several other sustainable clothing brands have followed in BOHECO's (BLabel and Hemp Fabric Lab) footsteps. Since 2015, the commercial cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes has been allowed in Uttarakhand. Following the example, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have legalised hemp cultivation.


After the proven ill-effects of delta-8, one can never truly argue about the fact that cannabis is neither completely harmless nor harmful. Knowledge about the pros of using cannabis in the medicinal and industrial sector is well established and researched. Similarly, the presence of delta-8 equally makes proper education and steps in the right direction a pre-requisite while using or prescribing CBM to patients. Thus, a detailed investigation into the risks and benefits is a must when the question of legalising comes to mind. Though there are a few issues and loopholes in the industry, the legalisation of marijuana and proper establishment of laws to monitor the flow can help in sorting out the situation.


In December 2020, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) reclassified cannabis as a less dangerous drug to encourage its use in the medical field. India had voted for the motion. Despite the move, there have been no remarkable changes in India. Thus, the question that arises is: As the debate about the legalisation of Marijuana is underway, would a constructive, well-cited discussion pave the way to the establishment of a responsible and respectable decision in India?


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