ANGLE

The Politics of Pot

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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The legalisation of marijuana is still a far cry in India


TWENTY-NINE AMERICAN states have allowed marijuana for medicinal purposes over the last two decades, but the federal administration under President Donald Trump is addressing it, with little evidence, as a narcotic correlated to violent crimes. Legal consumption of marijuana is far from settled as a policy even in the developed world. Unexpectedly, this week saw a Union minister of India, Maneka Gandhi, recommending that marijuana should be legalised in India and that is just extraordinary because of where it is coming from.

Indian politicians almost never take a stand on issues that are perceived to be tricky, even if they are self-evident to teenagers. A US survey by Gallup last month found that a little under 50 per cent of Americans had tried marijuana at least once. In 1969, the poll showed only 4 per cent and that was probably because no one wanted to admit it. The Gallup survey also showed that 12 per cent used it regularly, which meant that most of those who had tried it had not made it an ongoing feature of their life. Marijuana has also been shown to not be addictive. One study found that the big risk of people smoking pot was it might lead them to cigarette smoking, a legal and more dangerous addiction. Marijuana is also very useful in pain management, a reason why its use has been legalised, especially for relief to cancer patients.

These are all arguments to be made for marijuana but politicians don’t touch the subject because it doesn’t get them votes and can easily be used in propaganda against them as someone who encourages drug addiction. Gandhi, according to PTI news agency, made this suggestion at a meeting of a group of ministers. Her reasoning was that it was useful in cancer treatment and also prevented those who were experimenting from switching over to hard drugs. When both soft and hard drugs are illegal, there is no risk or reward in choosing one over the other. The meeting had been called to discuss a policy to combat drug use.

Will marijuana then be legalised? You can probably bet not. In the PTI report, the Social Justice and Empowerment Secretary G Latha Krishna Rao was quoted as saying it would be inappropriate to legalise it because ‘of the large population and low level of literacy in the country and [she] added that the possibility could be explored in future.’ This doesn’t make much sense. If legal marijuana has its uses, then if the population is large it will be useful to more people. And citing low literacy makes the assumption that education can make people immune to drugs whereas college students are the ones who consume marijuana the most. The really poor in cities— street dwellers and beggars— have a huge drug addiction problem, but they consume hard drugs. Marijuana would actually be good for them.

And then there is also the fact that bhang is anyway consumed and sold legally in India. Bhang is just another variant from the same family that brings you marijuana. Both are drugs. But one is more politically correct.

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