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  • Paras Sharma

Legalisation of Marijuana: India v. The World

Written By: Aisha Rais & Ridhi Ranjan, Students, Chanakya National Law University, Patna


Cannabis, commonly known as Marijuana (from the Spanish term: marihuana), and in colloquial terms called as ganja, weed, pot, grass, hash etc. is a worldwide preparation of the hemp plant intended for using it as a psychoactive drug and as a medicine[1]. Cannabis contains more than 400 chemicals, THC (delta-9-hydrocannobial) being the most active chemical. The strength and potency of the THC determine the effects on the user consuming it. In India, the consumption of marijuana can be witnessed since the Pre-Historic time of Man’s existence. Indian use of marijuana is historically bound with faith and mysticism. Taking down from the indulgence of Baul singers of Bengal to the festivity ambience of Holi, the consumption of marijuana has never been regarded as the deviant approach towards the society.

Marijuana continues to be the most consumed drugs, yet being criminalized. Under the survey of UNODC, 2019 it has been estimated that roughly about 3.8 percent which is approximately 188 million people of the global population between the age group of 15-64 years has consumed cannabis of different forms at least once in 2017.[2] The average prevalence use of cannabis on a global level has increased from the previous years.[3] Although in Asia, the estimated use of the drug is much lower than the rest of the world which is about 2 percent yet owing to the size of the population, the region constitutes about one-third of the global cannabis users. India accounts for more than 3 percent of the people aged 18 and above and around 1 percent of the people aged between 10-17 years had used any kind of cannabis product including “bhang”.[4] According to the report, it has been estimated that nearly about 0.7 percent is suffering from cannabis use disorders.

The criminalization of marijuana has caused a lot of hindrance to the research work however there is no study which proves that consumption of cannabis product can cause fatality. Although both marijuana and tobacco contain virulent substances, the anti-inflammatory tendency of THC generate no harm to the lungs. Another epidemiological study suggest that marijuana addiction is a rare thing. There are only 9 percent of the regular consumer of the drug who has been made clinically dependent on it and are addict[5].


The whole world is a spectator for the immense progress in the process of legalization of marijuana in the medical sphere around the countries along with some have legalized the plantation of the hemp plant and for recreational use. Nonetheless, navigating many jurisdictions can be tricky. The laws and regulations relating to marijuana varies from country to country. Where some countries have shown the positive approach towards implementing law, other countries still hold to the regressive policies.

Likewise, some countries have stringent laws while others have flexible laws. The European countries like Albania and Croatia, the laws are not so strict with the punishment up to 12 months. Cyprus considers Marijuana as Class B drug with the punishment maximum of two years even for the repeat offenders under the age of 25 years. France and Italy have some of the strictest laws; Italy having a logical one. In France, as of November 2018, the penalty for personal use was reduced from €3,750 and a one-year prison sentence to €50- 200 fine. On the other in Italy THC level under 6 percent is been decriminalized though can lead to fines and of driver’s license and passport. Africa can be called the quickest to implement the Marijuana laws. Last year, constitutional court of South Africa ruled that there will be no penalization for the possession of Marijuana; the bill has to be framed into law yet.

Cannabis is a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 in United Kingdom and the penalty for possession is up to 5 years of prison and some amount of fine whereas supply and production can cause up to 14 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine[6]. Oregon in US has begun the process of decriminalizing of Marijuana in 1973 though the legalization stated in 1993. The fine up to $100 can be imposed up to an ounce. Most recently, Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE), 2019 was passed to protect financial institutions that offer banking services to cannabis-related companies in states that have legalized marijuana[7]. Another bill, Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been introduced in the Congress in 2019 which would decriminalize the use of marijuana at the federal level.

Regions like Middle East has some of the strictest laws when it comes to the cultivation or possession of Cannabis or Marijuana. It is mainly because of the religious credence. Although Marijuana is not specifically forbidden in Islam but it has some likened to alcohol, making it banned so widespread in the Islamic countries. In Egypt, cannabis was made illegal in 1925 under the Geneva International Convention on Narcotic Control of the United Nations’[8]. Possession for personal use is not major issue in Egypt. Saudi Arabia has a stricter law relating to the possession imposing 6 months of imprisonment. Cultivation and selling might lead to execution as well and in case of foreigners, they get deported. The punishment gets harsher in Tunisia, Turkey and United Arab of Emirates where the punishment can go up to 5 years for cannabis possession.

In 2019, some Asian countries has made headlines regarding infliction of the strict punishment for possession, trafficking and consumption of Marijuana whereas other countries in the region showed a positive implementation of law for legalising it. The laws are stepping towards change in different nations across Asia.

In India, drug trafficking, use of cannabis for medical or industrial use is made illegal under NDPS, Act. Preceding to this act, the statutory control over the opiate drugs for trafficking is controlled and regularised by the Central and State government individually. The first ever act enacted for the purpose of prohibition of drug was The Principal Act, 1930. With the progression of time, various insufficiencies came into notice and finally NDPS Act was passed in 1985. Section 2 defines “cannabis” as charas[9]. Further, section 8 declares the cultivation of hemp plant as illegal[10].


Some countries have legalised the recreational as well as medicinal marijuana. Uruguay being the first country to legalise marijuana to be used for both medicinal as well recreational purposes in August,2014 followed by Georgia, South Africa and Canada.

Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Croatia, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland are countries who have legalised the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and decriminalised the possession of small quantity of cannabis for recreational purpose.

United Kingdom along with Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Greece and Denmark have legalised the use of marijuana only for medical purposes.

United States of America:

Federal level marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, prohibiting even its medical use[11]. However, among the 50 states of United states of America only Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and American Samoa are the only states that have completely banned the use of marijuana in all forms.

Arizona, Florida and New Jersey have legalised marijuana for medical purposes.

New York, Hawaii, Missouri and Montana have legalised marijuana used for medicines and have decriminalised the possession of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Capital of United States of America- Washington DC has legalised marijuana in all forms.

Other states to have legalised marijuana in complete sense are Nevada, Massachusetts, Vermont and Michigan.

Middle Eastern Countries:

Lebanon is the first country in the Middle East to legalise marijuana. Middle Eastern countries are a potential hotbed for the cultivation of marijuana. Lebanon has permitted tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels to be 1% or lesser than that. These levels do not make the user high but can be used for medical applications. Lebanon has been facing an economic crisis. The country believes that it will have an advantage in the cannabis market because their soil is the best for cannabis and the cost for production is the lowest compared to other states. Israel has legalised medical marijuana. Israel has legalised medical use of marijuana. Israel has conducted a lot of researches and development on cannabis over the years. By far the best-case scenario for legalization of marijuana is in Israel. Israel is even trying to permit recreational marijuana.

Since most of the ASEAN countries adopted its narcotic laws from that of the UN or United States of America[12][13]. In Thailand before the criminalisation of weed in 1935, it was traditionally used for relieving fatigues and labour pains. Recently, Thailand has legalised medical use of marijuana.

South Korea and Japan have followed Thailand into legalising medical marijuana.

Even though cannabis is a taboo topic in Singapore, several researches on cannabis have kicked off.

India criminalised cannabis in 1985 with the introduction of The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. However, cannabis in the form of “bhang”[14] is legalised in all forms in India.

In 2015, Tathagata Satpathy Lok Sabha MP from Odisha he suggested that weed should be legalized in India. Maneka Gandhi the union minister of Women and Child Development has suggested legalisation of marijuana. She suggested this because of the medical benefits derived out of cannabis.

One of the major and first relief was given by the Supreme Court of India in 2012 by the reduction in the sentence passed under section 31 of the NDPS Act for a repeat offence including “charas”.[15]

Almost from 5 years Great Legalisation Movement India Trust is been working to fight the stigma, initiating discussion and trying to bring a revolution in the Indian consciousness about the positive use of cannabis. On 19th July, 2019, GLM filed a petition in Delhi High Court urging to decriminalize the use of cannabis and also challenged the provisions of NDPS Act which declares the use of cannabis illegal[16]. On the grounds given in the petition, the petitioner pleads that Article 14, 19, 20, 21, 25 and Article 29 of Constitution of India is being violated while framing the provisions of the said act[17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22]. In the petition, they contended that the drug has industrial and medical benefits and many western nations has already made it legal. It has also claimed that no single study declares it as a lethal substance to human beings and treating it at par with other lethal substances is completely, “arbitrary, unscientific, unreasonable and unconstitutional.[23]” A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar issued notice to the central government seeking its stand on the plea.

Uttarakhand has already spearheaded a movement to bring out cannabis in the open, permitting the cultivation of hemp over 1,000 hectares on a pilot basis in 2018 and the produce can only be sold to the government.

On 9th February, 2020 the first-ever cannabis clinic was set up in Bengaluru, Karnataka. This launches the first attempt of medical marijuana in India.

India is the birthplace of cannabis and now is the right time to make healthcare professionals realise its immense therapeutic value.


[1] Cannabis, Oxford English Dictionary., (6th edition, 2007). [2] UNODC, Drug Use in Nigeria 2018., (Vienna, 2018). [3] United Nations Publication, World Drug Report 2019., (Sales No. E.19.XI.8). [4] Bhang is an edible preparation of cannabis used in food and drink and traditionally distributed during the festival of Holi. Bhang is legal in many states in India. [5] “ epidemiological study declaring marijuana as a rare thing.”, ( May 09, 2020, 6:40 AM), [6] The Misuse of Drugs Act, § 25, 1971. [7] Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, (2019), ( May 10, 2020, 8:20 PM) [8] League of Nations, International Opium Convention, Feb 19, 1925, Vol. 81, P. 319. [9] Narcotics and Psychotropic Drugs (1985), Act., § 2. [10] Narcotics and Psychotropic Drugs (1985), Act, § 8. [11] The United States Drug Enforcement Administration., Schedule I. [12] The Association of Southeast Asian Nations., Aug. 8,1967. [13] United Nation., Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, Dec. 20, 1961 [14] Bhang., Supra4 [15] Vipin Nair v. Gulam Mohammad Malik., (2012). [16] Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1985), § 8. [17] INDIA CONST. art. 14. [18] INDIA CONST. art. 19. [19] INDIA CONST. art. 20. [20] INDIA CONST. art. 21. [21] INDIA CONST. art. 25. [22] INDIA CONST. art. 29. [23] Great Legislation Movement India Trust v. Union of India.,( May 10, 2020, 8:25 PM)


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