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The Legal Affair

Let's talk Law

The Legal Affair

Let's talk Law

The legality of the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in India

The legality of the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in India


The topic has been debated for several years in countries all around the world, with some legalizing it while others have not yet made a decision on the matter. This essay will explore the history of cannabis in India, its cultural significance, and the current legal landscape surrounding medicinal cannabis use.

Additionally, the essay will examine the potential benefits and drawbacks of legalizing medicinal cannabis use in India, taking into account the perspectives of medical professionals, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

Ultimately, the essay will argue that while there are valid concerns surrounding the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, a thoughtful and evidence-based approach to legalization could have significant benefits for patients, healthcare providers, and the economy as a whole. Overall, the goal of this essay is to provide a balanced and informed perspective on medicinal cannabis use in India.

Historical Use of Cannabis in India

Cannabis has been used for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes in India for thousands of years. In fact, cannabis has been an integral part of Indian culture and medicine since ancient times, with mentions of its use dating back to the Vedas, ancient Hindu scriptures that were written between 1500 and 2000 BCE. Cannabis was commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional system of medicine that has been practised in India for over 3,000 years.

In Ayurvedic medicine, cannabis was used to treat a variety of ailments such as pain, inflammation, anxiety, and digestive issues. Furthermore, cannabis was also used in religious ceremonies and festivals, particularly in the worship of Lord Shiva.

However, the use of cannabis in India has also been associated with negative social and legal consequences, particularly during the British colonial period. The British government introduced strict regulations on cannabis use in India in the early 20th century, and eventually criminalized it in 1985 with the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

This act classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is considered to have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. This classification has been widely criticized by medical professionals and advocates for cannabis legalization in India, who argue that it ignores mounting evidence of the medical benefits of cannabis and unfairly stigmatizes users.

Despite these challenges, there has been a growing movement in India to reconsider the legal status of cannabis for medicinal purposes and to explore the potential benefits of legalization for patients, healthcare providers, and the economy.

Current Legal Landscape

There is currently no clear jurisprudence on the legal status of medical marijuana in India. The NDPS Act prohibits the cultivation, production, possession, sale, purchase, transport, and consumption of cannabis resin and flowers (charas and ganja), but not cannabis leaves and seeds (bhang) which are regulated by state governments. The use of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes is allowed under the law, but there is no official program or guidelines for such use.

Punishment under NDPS Act

Section 20 of the NDPS Act, which was enacted in 1985, covers a range of offences related to cannabis, including cultivation, possession, use, transportation, and warehousing, except for medical or scientific purposes. The punishment for various offences, such as producing, manufacturing, possessing, selling, purchasing, transporting, importing inter-State, exporting inter-State or using cannabis, varies depending on the quantity involved.

For a small quantity of cannabis, the punishment may include rigorous imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to Rs 10,000, or both. For a quantity greater than small but less than commercial, the punishment may include rigorous imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. For a commercial quantity of cannabis, the punishment may include rigorous imprisonment for not less than 10 years, but up to 20 years and a fine of not less than Rs 1 lakh (which can be extended to two lakhs).

There is a separate law for juveniles (Section 18 of the Juvenile Justice Act), and those below 18 years of age cannot be prosecuted under the NDPS Act.

Recent Developments 

In 2017, Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, expressed support for the legalization of medical cannabis. In 2018, Uttarakhand became the first state to allow licensed cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes. In 2019, a private company called Bombay Hemp Company received permission from the government to conduct research on medical cannabis in collaboration with the CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine. In 2020, Madhya Pradesh announced its intention to legalize the cultivation of hemp and marijuana for medicinal and industrial use.

However, these developments have not led to a clear legal framework or access for patients who need medical marijuana. There are still many legal hurdles and risks involved in obtaining or using cannabis products for medical purposes in India.

The Indian courts have not directly addressed the question of medical marijuana in the previous jurisprudence. However, there are some related cases:

– In Arjun Singh vs the State of Haryana, the Supreme Court held that cannabis leaves and seeds are not narcotic drugs under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) and that their possession does not amount to an offence.

– In Vikas vs the State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court granted bail to a person who was arrested for possessing cannabis for personal consumption, observing that cannabis is a natural herb and has been used in India since ancient times.

– In Rajat Sharma vs Union of India, the Delhi High Court issued notice to the Centre on a petition seeking the legalization of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which is derived from cannabis and has medicinal properties.

One of the court cases about the legal status of medical marijuana in India is a petition filed by the Great Legalisation Movement India Trust in Delhi High Court challenging the prohibition and criminalization of cannabis. The petition argues that cannabis has various medicinal, industrial, and recreational benefits and that its ban violates the fundamental rights of citizens. The petition also seeks to distinguish between cannabis and other harmful substances such as heroin and cocaine.

The Centre has responded that there is no complete ban on cannabis as its medical and scientific use is allowed under the law. However, it has also opposed the petition on the grounds that cannabis can have adverse effects on health and society. The court has refused to advance the date of hearing of the petition and has listed it for March 2023.

Pros and Cons of Legalising Cannabis for Medical Use or otherwise 

Some of the grounds for legalizing cannabis are:

  • Cannabis contains several compounds that have various medicinal and therapeutic properties, such as relieving pain, nausea, epilepsy, and other conditions.
  • Cannabis can also have positive effects on mental health, such as reducing anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
  • It can be a source of revenue for the government through taxation and regulation.
  • Cannabis can reduce the black market and criminal activities associated with the illegal drug trade.
  • It can enhance personal freedom and civil liberties by allowing people to choose what they consume.

Some of the risks or drawbacks of legalizing cannabis are:

  • Cannabis can have negative effects on physical and mental health, such as impairing memory, attention, coordination, judgment, and motivation. It can also increase the risk of psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
  • Cannabis can act as a gateway drug and lead people to more serious drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
  • Cannabis can pose social and economic challenges such as increasing road accidents, workplace injuries, school dropouts, crime rates, and health care costs.
  • Cannabis can be exploited by commercial interests that may prioritize profit over public health and safety. It can also undermine international drug control efforts and treaties.


Overall, while the legal status of cannabis for medicinal use in India remains murky, there are some signs that attitudes may be shifting towards greater acceptance. It remains important for individuals to research and understand the potential legal consequences, before using cannabis for any purpose in India.

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