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  • Cannabis, also known as marijuana, weed, pot, or Ganja, is a genus of flowering plants that belong to the Cannabaceae family.
  • The legality of cannabis in India is a complex and evolving issue, shaped by cultural, legal, medical, and socioeconomic factors.
  • Cannabis remains illegal for recreational use under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) of 1985.


In a civil society, consuming drugs is not only immoral but also illegal. Drugs, in the opinion of many, destroy families and communities. In addition to harming their health, many who take it in as an attempt to escape the miseries of life have also strained their bonds with friends and family. 

Millions of people in both developed and developing nations are impacted by the drug scourge. It primarily affects the weaker and more marginalized members of society negatively. Substance abuse poses a threat to children, adults, and men's health as well as to communities' vitality and vigour. India is by no means an exception to the rule that no nation is immune from drug addiction. It is evident from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment's Annual Report 2018–19 that drug addiction is most common among Indian men between the ages of 15 and 35. Women make for up to 20% of injectable drug users, and some users are younger than 18.

In this article we will delve deep into the usage and legality of the drug cannabis, in India.


The term "cannabis" describes a genus of flowering plants that belong to the Cannabaceae family that includes three psychoactive plants: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Some refer to it as pot, some as weed, and others simply refer to it as marijuana. Cannabis is a phrase that is increasingly being used to refer to marijuana these days. Cannabis is usually consumed for its relaxing and calming effects. It is made up of more than 120 components, which are known as cannabinoids. While research on the variety of cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant is ongoing, it is known to have two main types: non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD and the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (delta9 tetrahydrocannabinol).

Cannabis/Marijuana comes in several forms and can be consumed, smoked, or vaporized. According to users, the subjective effects of cannabis differ greatly depending on the form that is consumed. When marijuana is smoked, the psychoactive component known as THC leaves the lungs and enters the bloodstream, where it is then transported to all of the body's organs, including the brain. THC affects the activity of nerve cells in the brain by attaching itself to certain locations on nerve cells known as cannabinoid receptors.

Numerous brain regions have these receptors, including those that govern pleasure, memory, cognition, focus, sensory and temporal perception, and coordinated movement.

  • Short-term effects of marijuana include impaired thinking and problem-solving abilities, lack of coordination, skewed perception, and issues with memory and learning.
  • Long-term, consistent use can result in psychological addiction or dependency as well as physical dependence and withdrawal after cessation. It may lead to tremor, face flushing, tachycardia, dizziness, and nausea.

Is marijuana considered a drug? Definitely. It has many of the same mind-altering properties as other drugs, such as cocaine and opiates. It is one of the most commonly used substances in the world, along with alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. It has been used as a drug and a source of fibre since ancient times.


Cannabis has been given several names and forms throughout India over the course of thousands of years. India has long been the home of the Hindu faith, which uses cannabis in the forms of Ganja (cannabis flower), charas (resin), and bhang (seeds). Cannabis is described as the top portion of the cannabis plant that is in bloom or fruit and from which the resin has not yet been removed. When leaves and seeds do not make up a portion of the top, they are excluded. According to this description, "bhang" is not a component of the cannabis plant, which is why it is freely consumed during numerous religious occasions in India.

  • Despite being a cannabis plant, the Chandigarh High Court noted in Arjun Singh v. State of Haryana that bhang is not considered cannabis (hemp) under the terms of the NDPS Act. Therefore, eating cannabis under the aforementioned guideline is not always illegal. 

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 is the primary law in India pertaining to cannabis. Nonetheless, each state has its own regulations about the use, acquisition, and selling of marijuana.

  • For example, in the Indian state of Odisha, marijuana is legal, and individuals frequently consume it inside the state limits using "chillums." The first state in India to permit the commercial production of hemp is Uttarakhand. Many other hilly states are considering of allowing the limited production of hemp and marijuana since it's a rich crop that uses less water. In general, it is illegal to possess these substances in India. 

Up until 1985, cannabis and its derivatives—marijuana, hashish/charas, and bhang—were lawfully sold in India, where recreational use of the drug was widespread. It was believed that cannabis use was comparable to alcohol use and did not constitute socially aberrant behaviour. While the elite drank bhang during Holi, upper class Indians saw Ganja and charas as the poor man's intoxicants. Under pressure from the US medicine industry, the Indian government agreed to enact strict drug regulations in 1986, making it unlawful to produce, sell, or transport drugs within the nation. Since then, there have been arguments in favour of and against the drug's legalization. Even while the law gave foreign drug cartels access to a legitimate source of state revenue, it hasn't really changed anything.

In India, drug misuse is a major socioeconomic issue, and the government is implementing several policies to lower drug demand and encourage the rehabilitation of drug addicts into society.


The Indian Parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, also known as the NDPS Act, which forbids anyone from producing, manufacturing, cultivating, possessing, selling, buying, transporting, storing, and/or consuming any kind of narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. The Act was first passed in 1985 and has since undergone three amendments in 1988, 2001, and 2014.

"Cannabis" is defined by the NDPS Act as: 

  • Charas, crude or purified, is a separated resin that is extracted from the cannabis plant. It is sometimes referred to as hashish oil or liquid resin.
  • Ganja, the fruiting or flowering top, excluding the leaves and seeds that are not part of the top.
  • Any concoction or beverage containing Ganja or charas. 
  • Bhang is not included in the definition of cannabis under the NDPS Act as a part of the plant.

The Act defines psychotropic substances as any natural or synthetic material, as well as any salt or preparation included by the Psychotropic Substances Convention of 1971, and narcotic drugs as coca leaf, cannabis (hemp), opium, and poppy straw.

Anyone who contravenes the Act will face punishment based on the quantity of the banned substance.

  • If there is a small quantity violation, there could be a term of imprisonment of up to one year, a fine of up to ₹10,000, or both.
  • If there is a quantity violation that is not as high as a commercial quantity but is still higher than a small quantity, there could be a term of imprisonment of up to ten years and a fine of up to ₹one lakh. 
  • If there is a commercial quantity violation, there could be a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years which may extend to 20 years, as well as a fine of not less than ₹1 lakh but which may extend to Rs.2 lakhs.

(However, the Act does not specify the exact quantity considered "small." It is typically left to the discretion of law enforcement authorities and the judiciary to determine whether the quantity is for personal consumption or for other purposes.)

The NDPS Act's restrictions led to the establishment of the Narcotics Control Bureau in 1986. The NCB is a nodal organization in charge of coordinating drug law enforcement efforts with other ministries, offices, and State/Central enforcement agencies as well as matters pertaining to drug usage.

However, in India, it is permitted to grow cannabis for horticultural or industrial uses, such as manufacturing industrial hemp. Cannabis is acknowledged as a source of biomass, fibre, and high-value oil under the National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Low-THC cannabis research and growing are supported by the Indian government.

For hemp seed and hemp seed products "having less than 0.3 per cent THC," the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has officially certified them as "food" as of November 15, 2021. Therefore, careful interpretation of the legislation and official policy is necessary for the lawful use, trading, and commercialization of items derived from cannabis.

  • In the case of Narcotics Control Bureau v. Charas, 1994: The Supreme Court clarified that possession of small quantities of cannabis or other drugs for personal consumption may attract lesser punishment compared to possession for sale or distribution.
  • Sagar alias Saggi v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2008: The Allahabad High Court held that the mere recovery of cannabis from an accused is not sufficient to prove guilt under the NDPS Act. The prosecution must establish the accused's possession and knowledge of the illegal substance.
  • Bhola Singh v. State of Punjab, 2017: The Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that the recovery of cannabis from a vehicle without establishing the accused's possession or knowledge does not constitute a valid ground for conviction.
  • In the case of Mohd. Rashid v. State of West Bengal, 2020: The Calcutta High Court stressed in this judgment how crucial it is to strictly abide by the NDPS Act's procedural requirements. If procedural requirements are not followed, evidence may be excluded, or the accused may be found not guilty.
  • State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Kesho Dubal, 2015: In this ruling, the Calcutta High Court emphasized how important it is to closely follow the procedural requirements of the NDPS Act. Evidence may be excluded, or the accused may be declared not guilty if formalities are not observed.


Research findings over the years have suggested that cannabis may be helpful in treating a few different illnesses. Chronic pain can be effectively treated with cannabis or medicines containing cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis, according to a comprehensive 2017 analysis of over 10,000 scientific papers. Reducing neuropathic (nerve) pain may be a special benefit of medicinal cannabis. Some people use CBD oil in place of or in addition to prescription painkillers. Moreover, 2017 research indicates that cannabis use may aid in the treatment of addiction in those who suffer from alcohol or opioid dependence.

Additionally, the researchers discovered some data in favour of cannabis use as a treatment for depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers did, however, issue a warning that cannabis is not a suitable treatment for psychosis and bipolar disorder, among other mental health issues. 

Though promising, research on the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis as a treatment for psychiatric diseases is still in its early stages. Research indicates that smoking cannabis may also help reduce the symptoms of nausea and vomiting brought on by chemotherapy. Oral cannabinoids have also been shown to be useful in preventing nausea and vomiting brought on by chemotherapy.

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of a CBD-containing medicine in June 2018 to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two uncommon, severe forms of epilepsy that are challenging to manage with conventional medication. Epidiolex is the name of this CBD-based medication. 
  •  According to a 2017 study, children with Dravet syndrome who took CBD experienced significantly less seizures than those who took a placebo. Evidence exists to support both the negative effects and positive effects of cannabis on health. However, additional research is still required to properly understand the implications of expanding cannabis usage for public health, despite an increase in studies in this field.


It depends on several variables, such as public opinion, scientific research, cultural views, and the changing landscape of drug policy, whether more reforms to India's marijuana regulations are necessary. Among the justifications for reform are:

  • Use as Medicine: There is mounting proof that cannabis can be used as medicine to treat several ailments, including epilepsy, chronic pain, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis for medical purposes could be part of the reform. 
  •  Economic Opportunities: The legalization and regulation of marijuana may lead to the development of jobs in the legal cannabis sector, an increase in tax income, and a reduction in the load on the criminal justice system. 
  • Harm Reduction: Some contend that making marijuana illegal increases the demand for illegal drugs, causes unnecessary arrests, and disproportionately affects underprivileged population. Instead of emphasizing punitive measures, harm reduction techniques might be the focus of the legislative reform.
  • Cultural and Religious value: In several Indian traditions, cannabis has cultural and religious value. Reform might guarantee responsible use while acknowledging and respecting these cultural customs. 

There are, however, counterarguments against change as well, such as worries about possible detrimental health impacts, the possibility of rising drug usage, difficulties with regulations, and moral or ethical issues. 

Reform's necessity ultimately hinges on how legislators, officials, and the public strike a balance between these many concerns and interests. Evidence-based strategies, public health issues, social justice issues, and other nations' cannabis reform experiences must all be considered. Therefore, the question of whether it's high time to legalize and regulate cannabis in India is subjective and depends on various factors mentioned above.


The cautious attitude taken by the Indian government towards cannabis has been typified by its juggling of international drug control duties, public health concerns, and cultural considerations. Significant changes to cannabis regulations have not yet occurred at the federal level, despite discussions and debates surrounding potential revisions, including requests for legalization or decriminalization. There is some flexibility in the Indian legal system, though, since certain states have enacted their own laws, such as decriminalisation or restricted legalization for health and religious reasons.

  • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) of 1985 prohibits the possession, distribution, and cultivation of cannabis for recreational use. The NDPS Act carries harsh consequences, such as fines and jail time, for violations.
  • The Indian government made cannabis-derived medications including cannabinoids like THC and CBD legal in 2018. Regulating its manufacturing, distribution, and prescription are strict, and access to medical cannabis products is still restricted.
  • Under strict supervision, the government has allowed research organizations to cultivate cannabis for scientific and therapeutic purposes. However, licenses from the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) are needed for growing for research purposes.



Cannabis is still prohibited by federal law and is categorized as a Schedule I drug. Nonetheless, several states have made cannabis legal for both recreational and medical purposes. By 2022, recreational cannabis use will be allowed in 18 states, while medicinal cannabis use will be permitted in 37 states. 


Canada became the second nation after Uruguay to legalize cannabis for recreational use in October 2018. The cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis are all governed by the Cannabis Act. While provinces control sales and distribution, the federal government manages cannabis production licenses.


Although it is theoretically unlawful to possess or use cannabis, the country maintains a policy of not enforcing this law for tiny amounts. Under some restrictions, cafes are permitted to sell cannabis for personal use. The Dutch government permits the selling of cannabis at coffee shops, but it controls their activities to keep minors and the public out of trouble.


In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the use and possession of all narcotics, including cannabis. If found in possession of tiny amounts of narcotics, offenders may be referred to treatment programs or face administrative consequences instead of criminal penalties.Portugal provides drug users with access to treatment, social support, and rehabilitation programs, with a focus on harm reduction and public health activities.


In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation to allow the recreational use of cannabis. Cannabis may be grown for personal use or bought from authorized pharmacies under the law. To guarantee quality and stop illicit markets, the Uruguayan government strictly controls cannabis cultivation, sales, and distribution.


Likewise, to numerous other nations, India is also pursuing support for the legalization of cannabis. Numerous public and political personalities, including former legislator Tathagata Satpathy, politicians Shashi Tharoor and Maneka Gandhi, and others, have been outspoken in their support of decriminalizing cannabis usage. Madhya Pradesh decided to legalize cannabis cultivation in November 2019 for both commercial and medical use. In addition, several court petitions advocating for the legalization of cannabis have been submitted in the public interest by people and non-governmental organizations. In these kinds of petitions, it has been argued that cannabis production may boost employment and the Indian economy. They also say it's hard to overlook cannabis's medicinal advantages.

Given that the middle class in India, which has a population of nearly 1.4 billion, is growing and that the country's legal cannabis market is expected to reach US$102.2 billion by 2030 (per a report by Grand View Research Inc.), India presents a sizable potential market for legal cannabis products. Several start-ups in India that produce cannabis-based or cannabis-derived products have surfaced in recent years, indicating the industry's potential. Usually, the products that these start-ups focus on are food, cosmetics, clothing, accessories, and medications. It is imperative to emphasize that the recreational use of cannabis is still forbidden.


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