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To Re-Legalize or Not to Re-Legalize: Nepal Will Soon Decide

The world is aflutter with changing cannabis regulations. The Americas are certainly pretty green, and Europe is opening up more and more as well, including legalization measures (or the direct plans for one) in Malta, and Switzerland, and tons more getting close, like Germany. Not only that, countries like Georgia, Thailand, and Lebanon, are setting firsts for their regions in terms of legalization policies. One of the more interesting stories right now when it comes to legalizations, is a bill to possibly re-legalize cannabis in the country of Nepal.

A bill to re-legalize cannabis in Nepal would get the country back to where it was before it was pressured by the US to change laws. Thanks for dropping by our independent news publication focusing on cannabis and psychedelics stories. Stay with us by signing up for THC Weekly Newsletter, which also puts you in first place for deals on tons of cannabis products, likes vapes, edibles, and smoking equipment. Plus, we’ve got loads of cannabinoid products on offer including the highly popular delta-8 THC. As always, *cannabinoid products are not liked by everyone. We do not promote a consumer buy a product they are unhappy with.

Cannabis and Nepal

Cannabis has only been illegal in Nepal since the 70’s. In the 60’s and 70’s, cannabis was fully legal in the country, and was a big part of the ‘Hippie Trail’, a huge land trail that went from Asia to Turkey, through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and India. It was known as a hippie adventure place, and was rife with the use of marijuana. In Nepal, it ended at the appropriately titled Freak Street in Katmandu. Freak Street operated much like Freetown in Christiana, Denmark, where drugs are openly used, and nothing is done about it.

The trail, and Freak Street, were responsible for bringing a lot of tourism through Nepal, and by 1972, Nepal was very big on the hash-exporting scene. The trail itself attracted many hippies for the sheer fact that it was a cheap way to travel, with plenty of hitchhiking, or buses and trains that traversed the area. Hippies aren’t usually big fans of capitalist society, so the hippie trail also served as a place for spiritual enlightenment, off the beaten path.

There was not just one specific route of the trail, and many started in either London or Amsterdam, and made their way through Yugoslavia and Greece. From that point, there were different choices. A relatively standard route was to go through Ankara to Tehran to Kabul, through the Khyber Pass, then to Peshawar, onto Kashmir and then Goa. Trail seekers could choose their specific path based on where they wanted to go in the region.

Nepal

The trail has once again been picking up steam as a low cost method of travel and adventure. However, the travelers are not quite the same. Gone are the days of the hippy, replaced by modern day travelers who look more like young professionals out for a holiday.

Updated laws

In the early 70’s the US and the UN were pressuring countries to harshen up their cannabis laws, and Nepal folded under the pressure in 1973, cancelling growing licenses, and forcing shops to close down. Nepal relied heavily on the cannabis industry, and this was a major hit to the GDP of the country.

That year, cannabis was re-categorized as a narcotic, and made illegal. Freak Street predictably died out, as dealers were deported from the country, and all legal industry closed. The Narcotics Drug (Control) Act henceforth made it illegal to buy, grow, or process the drug in any way. The law went on to state that possession was subject to prison sentences or fines, or to treatment programs depending on the situation. As nothing more was stated, this left a non-specific law, which could be interpreted differently. Over the years, these different interpretations have sometimes led to those caught with small amounts, being given years long prison sentences.

What the law didn’t do, was rule out actual use, leaving Nepal with inconsistent laws. This contradiction is mirrored in other countries like Georgia; which legalized use, without legalizing buying, selling, or cultivation. This creates a logical fallacy, as something can’t be used, if it can’t be possessed.

Nepal continues as a large supplier of black-market hash domestically, and abroad. Supply crimes of up to 50 grams, are met with three months in prison and about a 3,000 rupee (~$39) fine. Suppliers caught with 10 kg or more, might be put away for 2-10 years and fined 15,000-100,000 rupees (~$195-$1300) . Possession of small amounts *should only lead to a short prison term (about a month) and about a 2,000 rupee (~$26) fine.

Even medically, Nepal really made a turn, ruling out all parts of the cannabis plant, including CBD. The law held that all extracts or essences of the plant, are illegal. And though Nepal has a strong background in ayurvedic medicine, for which cannabis is certainly a part, Nepal also has no medical cannabis program.

Mahashivaratri Festival

Legal for a day

One of the interesting things about Nepal, is despite instituting these harsh laws, especially considering the deeply embedded cannabis culture of the country, it did hold out in one way. The Mahashivaratri Festival. This festival is a yearly Hindu tribute to the goddess Shiva. General sacred days are celebrated on the 14th day of the dark half of a lunar month, and when that 14th day is in Magha (January or February by the Gregorian calendar), it becomes the Mahashivaratri Festival.

The holiday is associated with feasts, fairs, parties, big celebrations, and the legal smoking of weed. Technically, it’s only legal on that day for religious use in temples, but it ends up being a day of widespread and open use. The only day of the year when people can feel a little more comfortable publicly smoking.

The Mahashivaratri Festival is considered the most important day in Nepalese culture. The day before it is a fast day, and the holiday starts with a night ceremony. It creates an interesting paradox that the country is entirely weed illegal, except for one day of free smoking. This is reminiscent of India and its bhang loophole, that allows for the legal use of a cannabis drink, while otherwise holding the plant as completely illegal.

Incidentally, the government was actually supplying weed to the temples prior to the 90’s. It stopped around this time as it became frowned upon for the government to supply a drug which it designated as illegal, to its population. Up until that time it certainly created a contradiction for the government to arrest people for possession 364 days a year, and then provide the drug back to them on one day a year.

A bill to re-legalize cannabis in Nepal

All of this started to change in the last few years as general policy all over the world has undergone review and update. In 2020, the ruling communist party came together with a group of other legislators from different parties, to push for a motion to re-legalize cannabis in Nepal. The main purpose of this motion was to boost the economy.

After that, a formal bill was put out there in 2021, also to re-legalize cannabis in Nepal. The Corona pandemic slowed down progress, as it did all over the world, but as things pick back up, Nepal has been re-examining the re-legalization bill. This new law would set certain specifics, like that anyone in possession of cannabis for personal use could face a month in jail, and that those found guilty of sale and supply crimes could face up to 10 years in prison, with the exact time frame depending on the amount they were caught with.

re-legalize cannabis

According to Health minister Birod Khatiwada, right now, approximately 9,000 people in Nepal sit in prison for cannabis crimes. Of the new bill, he said, “I am trying to make it a campaign and issue in Parliament because many countries including the most powerful and developed countries have allowed the use of marijuana.” He continued, “The new law would ensure that the benefit is not going to go to one industrialist or small group of business people but rather it will benefit the poor farmers who would use their small plots of land to grow it.”

Considering that Nepal instituted its laws at the behest of countries like the US, it makes sense for the country to change tack, now that the countries that put pressure on it, are changing their own laws. In the US, for example, about half the population live in places where recreational cannabis is legal, and the vast majority live in a place where at least medical cannabis is legal. No reason for Nepal to follow long ago orders by a country no longer following them itself.

Nepal is not the only Asian country looking to make some major changes. Thailand is also in a flurry of changing legislation these past couple years, and is also eying a recreational legalization. Not only has Thailand already decriminalized cannabis, and taken cannabis off the list of narcotic drugs, but it also instituted policies for home-growing for private use. Other Asian countries like China and Japan maintain much stricter policies, and are not yet headed toward looser measures.

Conclusion

Will the effort to re-legalize cannabis in Nepal go through? It looks quite possible. Considering the circumstances that made it illegal in the first place, if it does act to re-legalize cannabis, it will be like Nepal setting the record straight after years of being off track.

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