Marijuana is the plant that has been stigmatized by the governments from across the globe, but none have done the job more efficiently than America. America’s impact has been seen across the globe, including India. But the times are changing, America has also been the first to decriminalize it in parts of the country and has led the way in creating a healthy atmosphere over the last few decades.
History of marijuana is as old as agriculture itself, use of hemp cord in pottery in modern-day Taiwan is recorded dating 8000+BC, right about the time agriculture was invented. Astronomer Carl Sagan, was the first to hypothesize that marijuana was the first crop to have been grown through agriculture.
By 6000 BC, It is estimated that hemp made its way into food in the form of seed and oils in China. Though the first recorded event of categorizing marijuana in medicine was in the year 2737 BC.
Some between 2nd and 1st millennia BC, Bhang (a form of cannabis preparation) found its way in Indian Atharvaveda one of the five ‘sacred grass’, it was consumed medicinally and as recreational substance, along with as an offering to Lord Shiva.
It slowly started spreading across the globe in forms of fabric, medicine and recreation, you can find a detailed history here.
Modern History in America
Till 19th century, marijuana was free in the eyes of the law, a potent component in many medicines and household products. But this all changed in the second quarter of 20th century.
After the Mexican Revolution in 1910, Mexicans moved into USA in large numbers, introducing America to recreational use of Marijuana, and so began the racial discrimination of the drug.
During the great depression, Americans were in major fear for their livelihood, and a large part of them started blaming the Mexican immigrants for scarcity of job. This led to a series of research into marijuana to link it to violence and other crimes and various other forms of ‘deviant’ behaviours, which majorly associated with ‘inferior’ races. This led to the formation of Federal Bureau of Narcotics in America.
By 1936, the propaganda had reached mainstream media, with the movie ‘Reefer Madness’ which showed the so-called ‘negative’ behaviours that marijuana leads to, including murder and gateway to harder drugs. This movie was so powerful that it led the Motion Pictures Association of America to ban all portrayal of narcotics in the movies.
In 1937, Congress of America, passed a law criminalizing Marijuana, except for those who paid excise tax for medicinal and industrial use.
During World War II, hemp was a major component in production of various military equipment like ropes, parachutes and bandages, and there was a scarcity for the product. Thus U.S. Department of Agriculture launched ‘Hemp for Victory’ program. They gave seeds and draft deferments to those who would stay home and grow hemp. This led to a growth of over 375,000 acres of hemp.
After creating laws that would impose mandatory imprisonment for drugs including marijuana in the 50s, America repealed those mandatory sentences in the 70s. This was in effect of the reports of the studies conducted in the 60s that found marijuana not as dangerous as previously assumed. During this decade 11 states in America decriminalized marijuana, while others reduced sentences.
Impact of America on the Indian Marijuana Stance
In 1961, America started attempting to make Marijuana illegal by campaigning for a global law against all drugs. This meant, that America tried pushing its allies to make the law a reality in their countries, including India.
Cannabis being a part of Indian culture from the time of the Vedas, Indian Government opposed the outlawing of the herb. It continued to do for almost two decades. But in 1985, Government under Rajiv Gandhi, caved and the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act was passed, illegalizing all forms of cannabis possession and consumption, except for Bhang which is sold through government authorized shops only.
British Research During The British Era
The consumption of marijuana in the form of bhang and chillum was so prevalent in the British Era of India, that British put a team together to research the impact of marijuana on the Indian efficiency and culture, 1890s.
Over 1000 standardized interviews were conducted by eminent Indian and British medical researchers. The research was extensive and thorough which included sample size large enough including farmers and doctors and others.
After years of research, The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report produced six volumes of data and conclusions. The reports stated that:
Viewing the subject generally, it may be added that the moderate use of these drugs is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use practically produces no ill effects. In all but the most exceptional cases, the injury from habitual moderate use is not appreciable. The excessive use may certainly be accepted as very injurious, though it must be admitted that in many excessive consumers the injury is not clearly marked. The injury done by the excessive use is, however, confined almost exclusively to the consumer himself; the effect on society is rarely appreciable. It has been the most striking feature in this inquiry to find how little the effects of hemp drugs have obtruded themselves on observation.
After 40 years of criminalization of marijuana, Robert Randall was the first person to receive a permit for medical marijuana consumption in 1976 in Washington DC. But his supply was cut off in 1978, to restore his supply, he filed a petition which landed up creating Compassionate Investigational New Drug program, which allowed patients with serious illnesses to get a permit for medical marijuana. But the process was so complicated, that only 13 people finally got the permit.
But this program was shut in 1992 as many AIDS patients applied and the government feared that it would go in the opposite direction of the Bush Administration’s stance on illegal drugs.
Just before the program was shut, in San Francisco in 1991, Proposition P was approved, by the voters using a ballot voting, Proposition P supported the use of Medical Marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. Similar laws were passed in other cities even though they were against the law of federal and state government.
Basing on the success of Proposition P, California’s medical cannabis advocates collected 775,000 signatures from the voters, which qualified them for a state-wide ballot initiative. Finally, in November 1996, California legalized the medical use of marijuana, becoming the first state in the USA to do so.
Over the coming years, many USA states followed the suit and legalized medical marijuana, but the ballgame really took a step forward when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, in 2012.
While America was moving towards legalization slowly, in 2014 and 2018, Uruguay and Canada respectively, legalized cannabis use in their entire country and other countries, like Mexico, Jamaica, Argentina, followed.
Where is India in 2020
Currently, possession, trade, transport, cultivation and consumption are still illegal under the NDPS Act of 1985, but the scenario is soon changing. Union Minister for Women and Child Development – Maneka Gandhi and Member of Parliament from Patiala – Dr Dharamvir Gandhi have proposed legalization for medical and recreation use, respectively.
In 2017, Dr Dharamvir Gandhi moved a private member’s bill in the parliament to legalize recreational use of marijuana along with other non-synthetic drugs. He earned the support of Members of Parliament Vinod Khanna (BJP) and Tathagata Satpathy (BJD). Satpathy had also stated on Reddit that he has consumed marijuana multiple times during his college years.
The Great Legalization Movement – India
Found by Viki Vaurora in 2014, GLM(https://www.glm.org/) is a non-profit foundation working towards legalization of marijuana in India. They have been working hard towards legalizing the plant and removing the stigma associated with it. They have filed a petition in Delhi High Court, in 2019, to do so with advocates Avinash K Sharma and Ashutosh Nagar.
First Medical Cannabis Clinic
Vedi Herbals, has started their clinics in Bengaluru where they sell Cannabis extract-based oils and tablets. It is far from what a cannabis enthusiast would want in his country but it is definitely a step forward.
First Research Centre
In Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand, Council of Scientific and Medical Research (CSIR) along with Mumbai based The Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO) have been given the license to grow and study the medicinal properties of the plant. They will be studying 20 different accessions from various parts of the country. Their main focus will be on illnesses like epilepsy and cancer, for which the western medical community has deemed marijuana as a major replacement for other drugs. Though it will take time for it to reach masses in medicinal form, but it is a step in the right direction.
Marijuana has been an essential part of human history, taking it away from the masses has led to many wrongs including forcing the plant to be in the hands of drug kingpins who peddle other stronger synthetic drugs along with marijuana making the drugs in the country more accessible to the masses.
Marijuana has been labelled wrongly, but the reality is that it is much safer than legal alcohol and cigarettes, which literally don’t have any medicinal benefits to it.
We need to legalize it medicinally and recreationally but after a strong awareness campaign so that the downfall of the drug becoming abused doesn’t come into play, especially as people with psychological disorders have been known to self-medicate with the plant leading to various other issues.
As always, Thanks for Reading.