Weeding out the absurdities                    

Our friendly neighbourhood 9PM shouting match organiser and a few of his friends have lost their collective buckets over the saga that erupted after the tragic passing of a young actor. They’ve now reached a conclusion that the actor’s girlfriend is basically Pablo Escobar’s avatar because apparently they smoked weed together. But I won’t be getting into that case here. What I’m interested in is why people on the tele literally started to hyperventilate when someone mentioned marijuana. Why are people acting like gaanja is the worst drug in the world, when all of them drink bhaang without hesitation during holi? Why is this leaf against Bhartiya sanskruti, when its brand ambassador is an actual god?

 But before we get into this we must first look at the history of marijuana in India.

                       The five kingdoms of plants, having Soma as their chief, we address;

                       the darbha, hemp, barley, saha — let them free us from distress.

                  — Translated by William Dwight Whitney, Atharva Veda 11.6.15

As our boy Will conveys through his translation, ancient Indians clearly loved having fun. In fact they loved having fun so much that cannabis has been praised in many other ancient texts like the Rigveda, Shushruta Samhita (for it’s medicinal purposes, it helped to treat catarrh and diarrhoea), Chikitsa-sara-sangraha (in fact mentioned two cannabis recipes for a long and *happy* life). Go through the wikipedia article and you’ll find a whole host of other ancient texts whose writers loved to get dazed. But if we want to get answers  to our main questions we must travel to the future, when we first met the “civilised” world.


Oh the British! They’ve always had a knack for screwing up a good thing (Brexit, football’s golden generation, etc.). These cricket playing, mash potato eating scallywags decided to put a tax on bhang, ganja and charas in 1798. Why do you ask? Apparently the tax was going to help reduce cannabis consumption “for the sake of the natives’ good health and sanity”. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report, completed in 1894, was a study of cannabis usage in India. This study in fact reported-

   “It has been clearly established that the occasional use of hemp in moderate doses may be beneficial; but this use may be regarded as medicinal in character.”

I think the foreigners’ greed was a bigger problem than the natives’ health and sanity. Later on the Brits even tried to criminalise cannabis (in 1838, 1871 and 1877) but failed to do so. As we can see that while the cannabis=immoral argument might have started to percolate our into collective psyche at this point in time, cannabis still wasn’t illegal. So then what happened?

America happened. In 1961, the West came together to form a treaty which prohibited the production and supply of specific drugs, except for a few cases. Sounds good right? Well to a certain extent, these people decided to include cannabis with actual harmful drugs like opioids and cocaine. This treaty was the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. 

To the credit of the Indian government, they fought hard against this inclusion, stating rightly that this was intolerant towards our cultural and religious practices. The government negotiated (forced more so) a deal where bhang would be left out of the definition of cannabis provided we promised to limit the export of Indian hemp. We were also given 25 years to clamp down on recreational drugs. At the end of this period, after a lot of bullying by the United States (who themselves were in Reagan’s racist ‘war against drugs’), India passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985. This act banned the sale of cannabis flowers and resin. It also criminalised carrying more than 10 grams of cannabis without a licence. Further owning more  than one kg of substance is a non bailable offence with up to a year of jail time. Bhang did not come under the purview of this law, but can only be sold only by government authorised dealers. 

This law which was openly criticised post its conception, in my opinion, brought us to where we are today. Weed being put into the same bracket as a variety of hard drugs gave it a worse name than it should have. This law was also extremely elitist. Succumbing to the pressure from foreign governments and alcohol lobbies, the government banned an intoxicant that was prominently used by poor labourers. We managed to take away the one completely safe thing that might have brought some peace to their tough lives. 

As various countries (and quite a few states in America itself) are moving towards legalising weed, we on the other hand are unfortunately moving backwards. As foreigners start to take advantage of this boon that our ancestors knew about for millennia, it is our people (like those in Punjab) whose lives are getting destroyed because of opium and cocaine. Alcohol addiction is rampant in the lower strata of our communities. If only they had an alternative! With all these problems existing in our country my appeal to those who are getting fooled by ‘journalists’ making a mountain out of 59 grams— know the facts, and weed out the absurdities.

Gandhar Joshi

S. Y. BSc Eco (19-22)

Leave a Reply