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Is time ripe to legalise cannabis cultivation in Himachal?

Illegal Cannabis cultivation in Malana Himachal Pradesh

Shimla: Amid the growing concern over drug abuse in Himachal Pradesh, the question that has also come to the fore is whether the cultivation of cannabis should be made legal in the state as the plant serves non-narcotic uses as well in making handicraft and medicinal products that are in huge demand.

The growing demand for legalising the cultivation of cannabis (hemp) has started getting the attention of the state government—first during the BJP regime, and now again after Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu took over the reins of the Congress government in November 2022.

Chief Parliamentary Secretary Sunder Thakur, a two-time sitting MLA from Kullu, says by legalising the cultivation of cannabis, the government can create employment avenues for local communities already using the plant and its fibre for making handicraft products which have a huge demand.

“There has been an abundant use of hemp as food, medicine, in religious ceremonies, customs, and households. I wonder why this plant has become only a source of Charas. There are non-narcotic uses. It’s the biggest source of earning for the women who make handicraft products,” he says and points out that the BJP government in Uttarakhand has already legalised the cultivation of the plant.

Cannabis extract is used in manufacturing medicines for the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer’s, he adds.

Maheshwar Singh, a veteran Kullu politician and former BJP MP says hemp/cannabis was traditionally used to make footwear (pullas), ropes, mats and also traditional food items. Cannabis seeds are also very healthy if consumed during winters with milk.

However, at the same time he said, “There should be no laxity in dealing with those indulging in mass scale cultivation of cannabis for smuggling of charas. They should be dealt with firmly. What we are talking about is non-narcotic use.”

In 2021-22, when Jai Ram Thakur presented his budget in the state assembly, he announced that he would permit commercial cultivation of hemp in order to create new investment and employment opportunities in Himachal Pradesh. The government also framed an approach paper listing modalities to permit “industrial and medicinal” use of the cannabis in view of its demand from local communities, also backed by politicians –both in the BJP and Congress.

The paper also spoke about scope for creating jobs and enhancing rural livelihood means in some districts like Kullu,Mandi and Chamba.

A former BJP minister Ramesh Dhawala has openly backed the plea for allowing “regulated“ cultivation of hemp /cannabis since it has already been permitted by many states because of its medicinal value .

Sunder Thakur recalls that the Himachal Pradesh High Court had three years ago recommended that the state government should examine the possibilities of framing a policy for commercial hemp cultivation for the benefit of locals.

“From long ago, practitioners of the Ayurvedic line of medicine used hemp for treating arthritis, asthma, warts, cough, and several other health conditions” says Hemchand Thakur, who retired from the Ayurveda department some years back.

The quality of hemp in Himachal Pradesh has been found to be very good. It’s seeds are also useful for making natural paints, ink and biofuel.

Some Self-help groups and NGOs working in Kullu, have already started training women to create some of the best end-products using hemp fibre and other materials to earn livelihoods. They are bringing hemp fibre from Uttarakhand.

Reports say use of cannabis for medicines was being done the world over and also in India. The Uttarakhand government had recently been approached by the Israel Embassy for development of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.

“A similar proposal can be examined by Himachal Pradesh for controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes and cultivation of low psychotropic content cannabis for hemp production,” the BJP government said in 2019-20.

However when contacted Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu said “right now, the government is not considering this proposal. We have received some suggestions on it but there is no move to legalise cannabis. We are rather preparing for a big war against drug trafficking and drug abuse in the state in the next few days”

There appears to be fear in the government relating to the regulatory mechanism and misuse of relaxations by those engaged in the drug trafficking. They can circumvent the provisions to make easy money. A lot of foreigners staying in Kullu-Manali used to provide hybrid seeds to the farmers to grow cannabis for extracting charas and marijuana from its dry leaves .

Jai Ram Thakur, the leader of opposition also says ” the time is not ripe as yet to legalise cannabis. The government should not jump into a decision which will have adverse implications on society in the future.”

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