While the infamous Charas, ganja & weed break waves in newsrooms and coastal cities, with a record number of states voting to legalize the drug in the United States and a growing demand to legalize the drug, lets look at the differences, fascinating history and possible future for the Charas ganja.
India’s tryst with marijuana-ban policy has been like a moody romantic relationship- on, but hesitantly, often not sure whether we want it, not sure whether it’s good or not, and not wanting to waste time on discourse over it. But it seems the UN has played cupid now. New smoke signals present themselves.
As of 2020, India has voted at the UN in favour of taking cannabis of the list of dangerous narcotic substances, sparking of widespread debate back in the country over possible legalization of the drug domestically. But it only adds to the half-hearted measures, laws and policies the Indian state has maintained towards the cannabis plant and its derivatives. For long, our policies have been all smoke and mirrors.
THE BANS- ‘AGAINST’ CHARAS GANJA
Cannabis, or marijuana, and its extracts, are defined rather semantically. The 1961 Convention on Narcotics Drugs, which India participated in, gave India 25 years to get rid of recreational drugs, and classified cannabis as a dangerous substance. In 1985, India came up with the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, which banned cannabis (hemp), including ‘charas’- the resin extract, and ‘ganja’- the flowering tops of the plant.
While, in popular culture, the words Charas & ganja are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. The flowering part of ‘ganja’ is refered to as ‘weed’, and the separate resin or ‘charas’, as hash.
However, with its cultural linkage, ‘bhang’ escaped the ban, and is still widely used across India, most notably at Hindu festivals and in fairs and melas. The Ambubachi Mela in Assam sees large-scale consumption of cannabis, though the sale of it is regulated by the Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act, 1958.
However, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s 2019 survey found that nearly 31 million people had consumed the substance within the last year. In illegal forms, the drug continues to be sold in large parts of India, and the poppy seed and ‘weed-hash’ is a popular youth recreational drug, and many a case brings to light that the drug might run as an open secret.
The 2020 Rhea Chakraborty case, where the actress was arrested for possession of the banned drug, brought it back in focus, and not in a good way. But there’s a catch to it
THE TRICK IN THE BAN- ‘FOR’ CANNABIS
India does not ban the Cannabis Sativa plant as a whole- so parts of it like the leaves, can be used in isolation. Hence, bhang, that owes its origins to the same plant, isn’t banned. Consumption of the extracts, if not in joint use with the rest of the vegetation, is also allowed. Thus, the chutney made of the seeds of the plant is still popular in the nation.
At the UNCND in 1961, India refused to put the policies in its pipe and smoke it, refusing to clamp down on cannabis, for it was linked to popular sentiment.
Rhea and her arrested acolytes argued similar grounds, claiming that the CBD oil referenced in her WhatsApp conversations was not a banned substance- even if a part of the cannabis plant and its extract, and is used in household preparations.
India also does not ban the sale, possession and consumption of the apparatus associated with smoking marijuana, making it easy to sell and buy pipes, rolling paper and the like, and tobacco sale being legal means one often finds the mix of the trade and availability of illegal things in legal establishments selling tobacco, hookahs and smoking pipes. It is not suspicious to see a smoking cigarette or a tobacco shop or naked rolling paper or hookah stands, or the wild growth of the cannabis plant.
Hemp is a source of biomass and high-fibre oil. Industrial hemp-growing is also allowed in India, making its cultivation, use and sale widespread, and the illegal part passes easier under cover.
ANCIENT HISTORY OF WEED IN INDIA
India’s tryst with intoxicating substances goes long back to the Hindu texts, and references are found in many places. The Atharva Ved mentions in Book 11, Hymn 8/6, Verse 15:
पञ्च राज्यानि वीरुधां सोमश्रेष्ठानि ब्रूमः।
दर्भो भङ्गो यवः सह ते नो मुञ्चन्त्व् अंहसः॥
which translates to: “To the Five Kingdoms of the plants which Soma rules as Lord we speak, Darbha, bhang, barley, mighty power, may these deliver us from woe.”
Thus, it is seen as perhaps an intoxicant that releases us from stress.
The Soma Lord was a deity worshipped for long as the Lord of the moon, streams and others. It was said to be an invigorating Lord that helped others in their fight-much like the effects of intoxication. Also, there’s an entire book in the Veda- the 9th RV- dedicated to the praise of the Lord Soma. It is said to represent a heady liquor, often with sour milk and barley in mixture. But multiple versions and ideas are attached to the Lord Soma across the texts.
The Shushruta Samhita mentions ‘bhaang’. Scholars and travelers over the ages have recorded bhaang as a regular intoxicant consumed by Indians, and it has been a normative drink. The British recorded the consumption of it among Indians, at times with alarm, and put a tax on it in the 1700s. Opium was also consumed in large quantities, and its use is recorded in popular writing as well.
In Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs and Medicinal Matters of India and of a Few Fruits, the Portuguese Garcia wrote about the use of cannabis in India extensively.
Indeed, bhaang, charas and ganja have been part of the popular culture from Vedic times, it seems. However, their use was in moderate quantities, as recorded by both the Rig Veda and the Report of the Indian Hemps Drug Commission. The RV mentions in 8.2.12: “Those who consume intoxicants lose their intellect, talk rubbish, get naked and fight with each other.” Often, even later too, it discourages the use of alcohol. Scholars often find the text ambivalent on the idea of the use of the plant as a recreational drug.
RESEARCH AND PATH TO LEGALIZATION
Recently, much interest in the drug has been re-awakened. The Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences has conducted research on cannabis as a pain alleviating drug for patients. Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has also said the drug can have positive effects. In 2015, the Union Govt. issued the first ever licence to grow cannabis for research purposes to the CSIR and Bombay Hemp Company.
On 1st February, 2020, the first cannabis clinic was opened in Bangalore, and it sells tablets and oils as Vedi Herbals. Cannabis has long been said to have medicinal uses in potentially curing long-term ailments.
The International Narcotics Bureau reported that India is one of the countries with the highest use of illicit drugs. 1980 acres of illegal cultivation of cannabis were seized in 2018, a little less than the year before. Recently, Madhya Pradesh and Manipur have considered legalizing the drug’s use.
It’s consumption in large parts has often been reported, and it is easy to grow and consume, and available in countries abroad, for the world remains divided over its recreational and medicinal uses. The ‘smoking up’ culture and its effect of a mental ‘high’ or light-mood and sense-controlling effect is an increasing popular trend among the youth. India’s policy on the use and regulation of cannabis and its extracts is a both here-and-there tale.
Like all moody relationships- we don’t know how India’s legal tryst with marijuana will end. But efforts are on to legalize the drug, so law-makers can finally smoke the peace pipe with marijuana.