Visitors to the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh are left mesmerized by the stunning landscape of the region, lush greenery, cascading waterfalls, the majestic Himalayas in the backdrop. And there’s something else – marijuana!
Clusters of cannabis plants here, there and everywhere! Growing freely, with unbridled joy, without a care in the world. Farmers in many states in India grow marijuana, also called as “ganja” or the Indian help plant, within and around their properties. Marijuana is one of the most commonly grown drugs in the world, which is consumed by 125 million people each year. In India, marijuana has a rich history behind it. It is intrinsically tied to the Hindu religion and mysticism. Indians have consumed and celebrated different versions of the marijuana plant such as bhang, weed and charas (hash) for over a thousand years. Hindu religious texts mention marijuana in a positive context, and say that it helps the user attain ecstasy in the true sense of the word.
Lord Shiva – the most powerful of all Hindu Gods, loves smoking weed, according to several mythological texts. It is said that Lord Shiva once wandered off into the fields every time after an argument with his wife, Goddess Parvathi. Tired, he fell asleep under a leafy plant. Upon waking up, Shiva tasted the plant’s leaves and felt instantly rejuvenated and full of energy. He made the plant his favorite food. That plant, which captivated Lord Shiva so much, is none other than the cannabis plant.
Indians have a tradition of drinking bhang, a derivative of the cannabis plant on Holi, everybody’s favorite Hindu festival which is celebrated with joy. Bhang is very much a part of the Hindu religion and culture. Indeed, the Hindu soldiers of the past would drink bhang to give them courage just before a battle, just as soldiers in Western armies would have a whiskey.
That’s all really great, and very heartening for many of us, but here’s the problem – marijuana is still illegal in India because of an unfortunate law that was put in place in the 1980’s under pressure from the U.S. government. Back then, the U.S. was fighting the much criticized “War on Drugs” and literally forced its allies such as India to sign the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), which made marijuana a banned substance.
Unwilling to do anything that would upset the world’s richest and most powerful country, the Indian government led by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi banned the use of marijuana. Anybody caught buying or selling marijuana was now at risk of being sent to prison. Marijuana, which was a part of the Indian culture and religion for hundreds of years, was now banned in India, because of a silly law which nobody in the India wanted, not even the government.
A lot has changed since then in the West. Marijuana is today approved for medicinal use in the U.S. and there is a growing realization that the “War on Drugs” which criminalized so many for no good reason was a mistake, to say the least. But marijuana is still banned in India, not even allowed for medicinal use. There are a lot of people that go to prison each year for the possession of the drug. The only thing thats dangerous about the drug is getting caught with it!
Legalization of marijuana would create tens of thousands of new jobs in India, where unemployment is such a big problem. In Colorado marijuana legalization has created over 10,000 new jobs.
The government in India is aware of economic and social benefits of the cannabis plant. Steps are being taken in the right direction. The government of the state of Uttarakhand has made it legal for farmers to cultivate the Indian hemp plant. This is a good move but not nearly enough of the farmers are allowed to sell their harvest to the government. Unfortunately the farmers are excluded from selling their hemp crop to private industry buyers.
There is a growing cry in the country to legalize the use of marijuana. After all, marijuana was legal in India for much of its history, except for the last 30 years. It is just not right to deny the people of India the right to something that is such a big part of their culture.