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Is cash-starved Himachal Pradesh set to legalise Cannabis cultivation despite risks?

Himachal Pradesh is debating on whether to legalise Cannabis cultivation for medicinal purpose

Shimla: The resource-starved Himachal Pradesh is almost ready to open cultivation of cannabis (Bhang) for its industrial and medicinal use in some of the potential areas including Kullu, Mandi and Chamba districts but under stringent regulations, to check its pilferage to illegal drug trade.

This is an indication which Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu has given in the state legislative assembly, which ended its five-day long monsoon session in Shimla on Friday.

A committee set-up under state Revenue Minister Jagat Singh Negi to study the possibilities of cannabis cultivation has submitted its report to the Chief Minister ,which he later also laid in the state legislative assembly. The committee has favoured the move for legal cultivation of cannabis in Himachal for non-narcotic purposes.

The move, though controversial, will generate an annual revenue of Rs 500 cr to the state government, as per preliminary assessments .

The members of the committee who included state’s Chief Parliamentary secretary and Kullu MLA  Sunder Singh Thakur had visited some of the states which have already legalised cannabis /hemp cultivation and were earning revenue from its medical and industrial use.

These states are Uttarakhand, MP and J&K .

“The committee has recommended cultivation for industrial and medicinal purposes under Section 10 and 14 of the NDPS Act. The step will not only benefit farmers economically, but also generate about Rs 500 crore revenue for the government,” the revenue minister Jagat Singh Negi informed India Narrative.

Till now, Cannabis is grown illegally in HP’s Kullu, Mandi, Chamba and Shimla. It’s used for narcotics and checking the menace has remained a challenge for the police. Dispelling misuse fears, the minister said the NDPS Act, 1985, would have to be amended before issuing permits for the farming, he says

The committee has expressed the need for amendments to the NDPS Act, 1985, developing SOPs for cultivation and forming a state-level authority to function as single window system

“Creation of seed banks and a fund for research, development

Specialised excise staff for regulation, monitoring” are other suggestions made by the committee

The members, who also include three sitting MLAs are of the view that cultivation of hemp/cannabis should be allowed for industrial and medicinal purposes only and state government could tap into this untapped potential and allow its benefits to the local farmers ,who can be allowed to take-up hemp cultivation for non-narcotic purposes.

Revenue minister Jagat Singh Negi  says the region’s favourable climate and geographical conditions are ideal for hemp cultivation. Wild hemp/cannabis plants currently grow in almost every district of Himachal Pradesh but are routinely destroyed by law enforcement agencies due to their potential use in drug trafficking

Negi also highlighted the environmental benefits of industrial hemp cultivation. The committee’s research indicated that hemp cultivation has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint.

There is a view that hemp/cannabis can grow with minimal or no reliance on chemical pesticides and fertilisers, making it an environment-friendly crop.

Traditionally, the hemp was being used for various domestic purposes to make ropes, even as food product, fibre and its leaves are used by local artisans to make handicraft products, furniture, cosmetics, healthcare items, and even biofuels. The cultivation of hemp-related industries within the state would not only bolster the economy but also diversify revenue streams.

Attempt to legalise cannabis cultivation was also made during the earlier BJP government but the move was shelved later as former Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur says ” there are few fears about its misuse as the state was facing a drug menace already”.

Also Read: Himachal govt taking fresh look at Cannabis as medicinal herb to make cultivation legal