There’s irony everywhere you look in the cannabis culture. From Hawaii’s medical legalization that allows small gardens, but prohibits citizens from purchasing seeds or clones, to the judges who sentence inner city youth for minor possession and then go home and smoke up themselves, many characteristics of the pot world are rife with hypocrisy and double standards.
The pot fields of the Himalayan valley in India, situated at a potency-enhancing elevation of 10,000 feet, are no exception. Regarded by many as the homeland for a variety of high-quality indica landrace strains, Himalaya maintains a small cannabis tourism business despite the fact that most villagers who produce the herb remain impoverished.
Most of this poverty is caused by the simple fact that marijuana is officially outlawed in India, and has been since 1985. As a result, the majority of the profits are kept by the distributors, rather than the farmers. These black market operators take not only the cannabis and hash to distribute, but also most of the cash.
Poverty & Top-Shelf Hash
Despite this trade inequality, top-shelf Indian hashish from the region, which is called charas, is highly valued throughout Europe and around the world.
Unlike Colombian fair-trade coffee farmers, no such protections exist for Himalayan villagers cultivating thousands of acres of illegal cannabis destined to become high-priced hash in boutique smoking cafes in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and other canna-friendly regions of Europe.
After it reaches its retail destination, charas sells for 10 times what it fetches within the confines of these small, backward communities where 10 grams of the potent hashish costs as little as $30.
According to one villager,
“In Amsterdam, it’s like a vintage car. Dealers can name their price.”
Paved roads do not exist in these remote villages of the Himalayas, so walking time remains the main measurement for distances. This has made it quite difficult for law enforcement to locate and eradicate the huge fields of marijuana growing in the region. Some of these massive cultivation sites are estimated to be as large as 3,000 acres, often blanketing entire mountains.
Why don’t villagers switch to a different crop or seek employment elsewhere? The work simply isn’t available. Cannabis farming and the production of charas hash are literally the only ways of putting food on the table for thousands of residents within these communities.
Steeped in Tradition
The Himalayan region features a long tradition of cannabis cultivation that dates back to 2,000 BC. Hash production and consumption is highly ingrained in Indian culture; it’s even mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. While some efforts have been made to introduce legal farm crops to the region, most villagers show little interest. This is mostly because such crops produce for farmers income that’s equal to or less than what they receive for cannabis, obviously giving them little or no motivation to become legal farmers of things like sweet peas and beans.
Of course, this needless poverty could be eradicated if cannabis was simply legalized in the country and fair-trade relationships were established with villagers in the region, giving them a larger slice of the pie. This would help remove the criminal elements that are currently grabbing the lion’s share of profits and lift residents of the Himalayan region out their third-world subsistence, vastly improving education, health care, and their overall quality of life.
Just as in other areas of the world, prohibition is penalizing Indian villagers by perpetuating their poverty and handing the spoils of the drug war to outside criminal elements.