The United States isn’t the only country experiencing a radical transformation in cannabis legislation. Other regions – including Australia, New Zealand, and India – are also in the process of updating old, questionable marijuana laws to accommodate innovative treatments in the medical sector.
Bhang and the Local Cannabis Scene
In India, cannabis has a been around for centuries. The herb is commonly associated with a local drink called bhang. Popular during the two-day Holi festival, the concoction is made up of marijuana leaves and flowers, spices, ghee, and milk. By law, the festive drink is legal to buy in government-sponsored stores. During the holiday period, the government acknowledges its role in religious customs, and allows locals to observe such traditions by enjoying the beverage. It offers a mild, relaxing high, while also serving as a cure for arthritis, nausea, and indigestion.
“Years ago, cannabis — or ganjha, as it’s widely known here — was available from government-licensed shops. Although it was banned in the 1980s, due in part to pressure from the US when the country declared a global war on drugs, cannabis has a long religious and cultural significance in India,” said Adnan Bhat from Ozy.
But cannabis is not used in its edible form exclusively. In the past, local religious groups relied on a thick cannabis solution to preserve their homes and temples. At the Ellora Caves, a 1500-year-old World Heritage site, India-based Buddhist monks used a mixture of hemp and clay to create the concrete-like substance that still plasters the walls and ceilings of the shrines there.
Outside of Holi and the Ellora caves, however, India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act from 1985 categorizes the plant as a narcotic, and growing cannabis is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, a loophole in the law allows people to consume the leaves of the herb, which is used in bhang. Interestingly, it is also permissible to harvest leaves from “wild” cannabis plants in rural regions.
Buying Weed in India
Locals who smoke marijuana must buy it from unofficial sellers. In New Delhi, a metropolitan area in the northern part of the country, weed can be purchased from “aunties,” or well-respected senior citizens. Buyers simply knock on the seller’s door, and exchange a 100-rupee bill (worth roughly $1.50) for a small packet of cannabis. “Scoring weed in India is like getting vegetables from the market,” explained Prakhar Singh, a 24-year-old marketing executive. “Everyone is smoking up.”
Many believe that India may soon be open to loosening its grip on cannabis. In 2015, Tathagata Satpathy, a member of Parliament from the South Indian state of Odisha, surprised citizens with a series of weed-fueled comments on Reddit. During an online forum session, the politician admitted to smoking marijuana in college. He also provided tips on acquiring cannabis for readers living in the local region. Other groups, such as the Medicinal Cannabis Foundation of India, are in the process of getting approval from the government to use the plant for medicinal research and testing.
With cannabis’ long history in India, we hope to see more public discussions about legalization – or at least decriminalization – in future.