Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Clamour For Cannabis Legalisation Grows In Himachal As Illegal Drug Trade Rises

The locals cultivating cannabis, now having developed expertise in sourcing hybrid varieties, are pushing for its legalisation, and even for making it a legitimate livelihood.

Representational Image File Photo

The picturesque Kullu region and its famed tourist destination of Manali and Parvati have also become known as an international hub for the smuggling of drugs. But not everyone in Himachal Pradesh thinks cultivation of cannabis, a prime source of hemp and charas, is a condemnable trade.

The locals cultivating cannabis, now having developed expertise in sourcing hybrid varieties, are pushing for its legalisation, and even for making it a legitimate livelihood

This poses a new challenge to the state government‘s fight against the drug trafficking racket and the cultivation of cannabis -- the basic source of charas, hemp and marijuana. The entire Kullu district and parts of Mandi, Chamba and Shimla are into cultivation of the weed as a cash crop, though it is done quite clandestinely. Frequent police raids, destruction of standing crop of cannabis by the police and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) have not been able to stop the cultivation. Every year, the cultivations spread through new inaccessible valleys, and high mountain slopes.

First-time Kullu MLA Sunder Singh Thakur, who had earlier raised the issue in the state assembly asking for legalisation of cannabis (bhang in local language), says, “Jai Ram Thakur government has no political will to take a decision. iN Our neighbour –Uttrakhand, the ruling BJP has already taken a call and legalised the hemp cultivation. Today Uttrakhand has become a nodal state—a status that Himachal Pradesh could have acquired a long time back. Haryana is another BJP state having a policy, so is Jammu and Kashmir “.

He explains how some of the varieties of cannabis (non-narcotic) could be propagated as a source of natural fibre. This could be a value addition to the cannabis crop, which can be grown under a licence, and be made a source of employment.

But his is not the only voice in this regard. Former BJP minister and sitting MLA Ramesh Dhwala has suggested the state government to allow controlled cultivation of cannabis in certain areas for its use in the pharmaceutical industry, especially due to its demand in making cancer drugs.

Two Congress MLAs--Vikramaditya Singh, son of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and Anirudh Singh--from Shimla have also backed the legalisation demand .

Recently a PIL was filed in Himachal Pradesh High Court demanding directions to the state government to legalise the cultivation of cannabis in areas under strict state control to encash on economic benefits. Currently, the police and law enforcement agencies are only destroying the cannabis fields using their resources and manpower.

MLA Sunder Singh Thakur says, “Last year the court has also passed an interim order asking the state government to examine its possibilities, to which the chief minister had also agreed. He entrusted the matter to the officers. Nothing has been done as this being a decision to be taken by the political leadership”.

As of now, Kullu is increasing becoming infamous for drug smuggling because some of the best varieties of the charas and marijuana are reaching the world’s high-end markets from Malana valley -- a landlocked high-altitude area, which has been recently connected by road.

“Malana cream, AK-47, Himalayan Queen, Black Gold, Skunk Balls are a few popular names having high demand. Malana cream is particularly known for its high potency and thus brings high returns to the locals dealing in the cultivation of cannabis and extraction of end-products," says I D Bhandari, a former DGP, who himself had led several drives at Malana to eradicate the drug smuggling racket. He recalls having detected hybrid cannabis plants, which were as high as six to seven feet.

Former Horticulture minister Satya Prakash Thakur, who is also chairman of the internationally famous cooperative “Bhutti weavers", stresses the need for adopting the Uttrakhand model of cannabis cultivation as a legal way for the extraction of fibre, and its pharmaceutical use.

“ I don't favour any laxity to those who are in the narcotics trade in the garb of cannabis cultivation but definitely support demand for allowing non-narcotics varieties, which will hugely benefit the locals,“ Satya Prakash Thakur told Outlook.

As per police data, till July 31, as many as 1,170 Indians, including 44 women, and 13 foreigners were arrested under the NDPC act. In total, 914 cases have been registered; the police have recovered 202 kg of charas, 14 kg of opium and 26.3 kg of ganja beside other drugs from the accused.