Cannabis reform is gaining momentum in India as federal states look to rebuild their economies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. At least five of India’s 28 states are in the process of legalizing the cultivation of medical cannabis.
Uttakharand led the way in 2018, followed by Uttar Pradesh and now Himachal Pradesh, with Manipur and Madhya Pradesh indicating they are likely to follow suit.
Cannabis the plank to rebuild post-Covid economy
On 6 March 2021 Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur broached the idea of legalising cannabis for non-recreational purposes in the state, acknowledging that it could serve as a plank on which to generate new employment opportunities and boost the quality of livelihoods in the hill state.
Jai Ram Thakur: cannabis reform to get us out of the Covid deficit
“Commercial hemp cultivation is permitted and regulated in many countries and in some states in India. This creates investment and employment opportunities. The state government proposes to frame a policy to permit commercial hemp cultivation with the proper regulatory framework,” he said while presenting the Rs 50,192 crore state budget. The state is facing a larger than expected deficit because of the impact of Covid.
Himachel Pradesh already produces some of India’s signature weed
For a number of years now, legislators in Himachal Pradesh have called for the state government to legalise the cultivation of hemp to bolster the state’s economy. The state is acclaimed as a tourist destination, particularly the picturesque locales of Manali and Parvati in its Kullu district, but has also turned into an international hub for drug smuggling.
The high-grade strains of cannabis cultivated in the state such as Malana Cream, AK-47, Himalayan Queen, Skunk Balls and Black Widow are sold illegally not just within India but, reportedly, smuggled via Russia and the Netherlands around the world.
The locals themselves, having developed significant expertise in cultivating various hybrid varieties of cannabis and hemp have long campaigned for the state government to transform it into a legitimate livelihood.
India wants more bucks from its bhang
What’s more, although the cultivation of cannabis is prohibited under India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropics Substances (NDPS) Act, there are provisions within the law that permit state governments to allow regulated cultivation of hemp for industrial or horticultural purposes.
The clamour for the legalisation of cannabis has been growing louder in India, particularly in view of the increasing number of health and medicinal properties it is reported to have. Hemp can also be used as a building material. CM Thakur has himself stated previously that the cannabis seeds may also be used in the production of paint, biofuel and ink.
But the revival of the state’s shelved plans to legalise cannabis is also a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Himachal Pradesh relies extensively on its burgeoning tourism sector to generate state revenues. But with the intra and inter-state restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 outbreak, the state’s coffers have been struck hard.
As such, with the state now staring at a markedly higher budget deficit than otherwise, legalising cannabis cultivation is seen as an effective way to support its economy in the shot to medium term.