Legalise cannabis, America may follow

The land that first made the world consider cannabis to be a dangerous substance – in the 1930s, films like Reefer Madness even demonised the recreational use of ganja as leading to crime, madness and murder – is finally coming around. The Biden administration is moving ahead to reclassify marijuana as a ‘less dangerous drug’ on a par with ketamine and anabolic steroids from its earlier classification as a Schedule 1 drug alongside the likes of heroin and LSD. This is welcome, especially from an ‘influencer’ country. While the move won’t legalise its recreational use throughout the US – which many states have – it will recognise medical uses of cannabis and that it has less potential for abuse than other drugs, including alcohol. India should use this changing view of cannabis to dump its own anti-ganja law that can, and is, used for harassment.

Cannabis in India is regulated by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985. The law imposes a ban on extracting the resin and flowers from the plant, while permitting cannabis use for medicinal and scientific purposes. State governments are empowered to permit, control and regulate its cultivation, production and transport. This law was foisted on India as part of Ronald Reagan‘s media-fuelled ‘war on drugs’, despite the social acceptability of cannabis use here.

Prohibition takes it underground, outside the purview of quality control with the potential of its misuse. Legalising it also makes economic sense. The global ‘legal’ marijuana market is valued at $21 bn in 2023. It’s projected to have a CAGR of 25.7% over 2024-30. For India to take a toke of this market, and bring it under commercial quality control, is an opportunity. America can one day follow suit.


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