India is the kind of place that has a rich history and culture of cannabis use going back thousands of years. Yet, even so, this does not equal a legalization today. Though recreational cannabis use is illegal, this does nothing to stop India’s bhang loophole from letting everyone use it anyway.
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India and cannabis laws
In India, according to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 (yup, legal until then), both use and possession of cannabis are illegal, with no personal use laws present. 1985 marked 25 years since the initiation of the Single Convention on Narcotic Substances treaty which had allowed India 25 years to essentially get its house in order drug-wise, leading to the 1985 ban. This means, even being caught with a small quantity can incur the offender up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to 10,000 rupees. When a person is caught with an amount greater than a ‘small quantity’ (1 kilo), but lesser than a ‘commercial quantity’, the prison sentence can go as high as ten years with a fine as much as 100,000 rupees. If a person is caught possessing a ‘commercial quantity’, the prison sentence goes up to 10-20 years, and the fine up to 100,000-200,000. Whereas repeat offenders caught with 20 kg or more of hash or a product with 500 grams+ of THC used to be subject to mandatory death sentences, this was struck down in 2011 by the Bombay High Court, and replaced with a death sentence option rather than requirement. Still pretty nuts.
To be clear on what exactly is illegal and where, the NDPS states that cannabis resins and flowers are illegal, but is fine with leaves and seeds of the plant, allowing individual states to set their own legislation accordingly.
Use crimes incur far more lenient sentences. Prison sentences are generally no more than a year, and often as short as six months and/or a fine of up to 10,000 rupees.
Sale and supply crimes are illegal, and the penalties are the same as for possession, with rising penalties with larger amounts of contraband. Trafficking, as always, is illegal, and offenders are subject to 10-20 years in prison, and a fine of 100,000-200,000 rupees. This is the same, you’ll notice, as the top possession penalty, and also comes with the ability for a death sentence. Even higher prison sentences than 20 years are given at times if the offender was violent, holds public office, involved a minor or a sale near an educational facility, or is part of organized crime.
Cultivation is illegal outside of scientific use, industrial use, or research purposes, all of which require special licensing. Offenders caught growing can face up to 10 years in prison and a 10,000 rupee fine.
CBD is actually perfectly legal to buy and sell in India as the THC content is considered not enough to produce a high.
What about medical?
India is a great example of medical contradictions. One of the things to understand about India is that it’s the home of Ayurvedic medicine, a natural medicine tradition that goes back thousands of years, and which is still used widely today all over the world (much like Chinese medicine). As such, cannabis has been used as medicine in India for thousands of years.
Now, having said that, because of current laws and bans which were all instituted in the last hundred years, India – a country that is home to one of the most famous medical traditions which includes cannabis – doesn’t actually have a federal medical cannabis program, although there is limited access to some cannabis medicines. Much like the US, different states in India have their own medical legalization policies. For example, India’s second largest state, Madhya Pradesh, legalized cannabis cultivation for medical and industrial purposes, in 2019. As a poor state, it was hoping to attract more business, and bring in more revenue with this new policy. How the policy helps its own citizens has not been as well defined.