A Private Member’s Bill by MP Dharamvir Gandhi to regulate cannabis and opium, and legalize medical marijuana, will be heard in the winter session of Parliament this December, according to a report by Indiatimes. Gandhi is a cardiologist, a former member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and presently a Member of Parliament from Patiala. Gandhi has been advocating the legalization of medical marijuana for many years, and received the support of late MP Vinod Khanna, among others.
Indus Dictum has reported on the campaign for marijuana legalization in past articles. We have spoken to various medical, legal and political experts who support the principles of the bill privately as well as publicly. One of our guest authors, advocate Aditya Barthakur, had filed a petition to legalize marijuana in the Bombay High Court in 2013.
Mr. Barthakur had challenged the inclusion of cannabis in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) of 1985, along with all its extracts (ganja/bhaang/charas etc). The petition was dismissed by Bombay High Court, and the appeal was subsequently dismissed by Supreme Court.
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Another article by the ID Chief Editor reported that marijuana related offences in India can be punished with up to a 20-year prison sentence along with fines and penalties, depending on the severity of the crime. The article also mentioned that 29 of the 50 United States have legalized medical marijuana, and 8 among them have permitted the sale to adults for recreational purposes.
In August this year, the Govt of India issued a “first-ever license” to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to cultivate and research the medicinal properties of cannabis. The aim is to “study and develop medical properties of cannabis for the treatment of epilepsy and chemotherapy induced side-effects.”
Even assuming that everything goes as planed and that the conclusions of the research are positive, there are still the hurdles of many years of testing and several approvals from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) before any cannabinoid-based drug enters the Indian market.
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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, “several studies have demonstrated the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids for nausea and vomiting in the advanced stages of illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Dronabinol (tetrahydrocannabinol) has been available by prescription for more than a decade in the USA. Other therapeutic uses of cannabinoids are being demonstrated by controlled studies, including treatment of asthma and glaucoma, as an antidepressant, appetite stimulant, anticonvulsant and anti-spasmodic, research in this area should continue.”
India is not the first country to face the challenge of medical marijuana legalization. However, the rest of the modern world has, for the most part, accepted the medical potential of cannabis, and permitted scientific research and recreational use in varying degrees.
At about the same time that the license to research cannabis was issued in August, Maneka Gandhi, one of Narendra Modi’s own ministers, also called for the legalization of medical marijuana. Gandhi made the suggestion at a meeting of a group of ministers (GOM), which examined the draft cabinet note titled “National Drug Demand Reduction Policy” as reported at the time by PTI. Gandhi also told PTI that “marijuana should be legalised for medical purposes, especially as it serves a purpose in cancer”.
Our research on the provisions for opium yielded inconsistent results. No comprehensive or complete draft of the bill could be found in the public domain at the time of publishing, so it is difficult accurately measure the scope of the bill (please contact us if you have information pertaining to the bill),
Medical experts that ID consulted are divided on the legalization of opium. Consequently, legal experts also opined that the clubbing of opium with medical marijuana in the bill may be it’s Achilles’ Heel. It is, however, the first such private member’s bill for the legalization of medical marijuana to be tabled in Parliament since the NDPS Act was passed in 1985.
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