Following Uttarakhand, Himachal looking to grow high-quality cannabis for medicinal purposes and industrial use.
In a significant announcement in his annual budget speech in March 2021, Himachal Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur announced that the state government is coming up with a policy to allow the controlled cultivation of hemp or cannabis in the state.
Announcing the decision during the recent budget session of the assembly, chief minister Jai Ram Thakur said, “The cannabis produced in the state is of high quality and there is potential to undertake its controlled cultivation. Under the NDPS Act, 1985, there are provisions for the cultivation, production, maintenance and transportation of cannabis.” This means the state wants to legalize commercial cultivation of the plant for non-recreational uses such as making medicines and fabrics.
For a state that is known for its ‘Mallana cream’, which is the charas or hash or hashish which comes from the Malana Valley in Kullu district, what does this announcement mean?
Isn’t cannabis cultivation banned in India?
Yes and no. In 1985, India banned the cultivation of cannabis plants under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. But this Act gives state governments the power to allow controlled and regulated cultivation of hemp for obtaining its fibre and seed for industrial or horticultural purposes.
In 2018, Uttarakhand became the first state in the country to legalize cannabis cultivation, allowing only those strains of the cannabis plant which have less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis that produces a high sensation.
What are the benefits of growing hemp?
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur in the Assembly during a discussion on the subject said, “During snowfall, we used to prepare a dish from cannabis seeds which helped keep us warm and energetic. Himachal produces top-quality cannabis, the seeds of the plant can be used to make paint, biofuel, and ink.” In parts of Himachal such as Kullu and Mandi, hemp had traditionally been used for making footwear, ropes, mats, food items, etc.
Kullu legislator Sunder Singh Thakur, who had been advocating for cannabis cultivation says, “Cannabis extract is used in manufacturing medicines for the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer’s. It will generate employment opportunities.” In fact, India has the potential to grow a $25 billion industry by legalizing cannabis farming across the nation.
Globally, cannabis for medical use has exploded in recent years and products containing cannabis derivatives like cannabidiol or CBD, a nonintoxicating compound, have flooded the wellness industry.
Why is Himachal planning to legalize hemp cultivation?
The decision to allow the cultivation of cannabis comes to overcome pandemic-induced unemployment and limited resources of income.
Hemp grows in the wild in all districts of Himachal Pradesh barring Lahaul and Spiti. An estimated 2,400 acres in the state are under organized illicit cultivation of cannabis.
Legislators in the hill state have been advocating the use of hemp for years in order to strengthen the state’s economy. Industrial and agricultural expansions in Himachal are bound by geographical constraints, and the tourism sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While announcing the significant change, state CM Jai Ram Thakur mentioned that the state government faces a debt burden higher than its annual budget, and is heavily dependent on the Centre for funds. Eager to generate employment and become economically self-reliant, the state government now hopes to attract a growing hemp industry. Himachal Pradesh hopes to earn ₹18,000 crores annually by undertaking the controlled cultivation of cannabis to ease its debt burden that has grown to ₹60,500 crores in the COVID-19 pandemic year besides generating job opportunities.
This much-anticipated change can generate 50,000 jobs, benefitting 2.8 lakh families in the state, and we are eagerly looking forward to more states adopting the same policies. Which state do you think will follow next? Let us know in the comments below.