Print Edition - 2017-12-03  |  Free the Words

In defence of the cannabis plant

  • Nepal should follow the emerging western trend of marijuana and hemp legalisation: It would benefit the economy
- BIMAL RAWAL

Dec 3, 2017-

It is interesting to note that in the millions of years of its use, there are practically no reported deaths from marijuana consumption alone—while hundreds of thousands die each year from alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking, and billions of dollars are spent for the medical treatment of the same.

It is marijuana’s misfortune that it was associated with the counter culture movement of the 1960s which led to its ultimate ban. Researchers have stated that, “an objective consideration of marijuana shows that is responsible for less damage to society and individuals than alcohol and cigarettes” and is a relatively benign substance in terms of addiction and is rated below nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.

People have many addictions some of which could be inborn and some cultivated. Inborn addiction is a disease and should be treated as such while on the other hand cultivated addictions could be stress or environment related.

Lopsided judgement

While millions smoke marijuana with little apparent harm, it is a banned substance. This, even as more harmful addictions continue to have immense governmental support and approval all over the world. Thus the speculation that cigarettes and alcohol lobbyists are at work cannot be ignored. 

The ban on marijuana has in fact led to a parallel black market and therefore a black economy. Everyone is aware that banning items sought by millions is not the solution. Legalising marijuana would eliminate the existing thriving illegal market and would be a source of public revenue. It would also generate income, employment and boost the economy. The income thus generated could be channelized towards the control of drugs that are truly harmful.

In Hindu mythology, sages have smoked marijuana since time immortal as an aid to improve concentration, imagination and creativity. Lord Shiva was known to be a regular user of hashish and therefore-as Hinduism is the majority religion in Nepal—it is interwoven with our cultural and religious beliefs, just like coca leaves are for the Peruvians. Yet, marijuana is banned globally. Like many other global conventions, prohibition of marijuana trade was imposed on Nepal, and we signed due to diplomatic pressure.

The theory that marijuana would be abused en masse if legalised is based on flimsy ground. One only has to look at places such as Amsterdam or the American state of Denver, with their experience in cannabis decriminalisation and legalisation to see that allowing marijuana use will not create an addiction epidemic.

Marijuana is a derivative of the plants Cannabis sativa, Cannabis sativa forma indica and Cannabis ruderalis, which are highly misunderstood plants. The UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances tries to differentiate between hemp and marijuana and, in many countries where marijuana is illegal, people do cultivate hemp legally—producing over 25,000 products from it such as fibre, tree-free paper, cosmetics, confectioneries, building material, oil, furniture, medicines and many others. The UN convention states that any Cannabis sativa plant with a THC content of less than 3 percent is not considered to be a cannabis (marijuana) producer, and can therefore be cultivated legally and an article in the same convention states that it can be used for medicinal purposes. 

Today the countries that have continued to experiment with cannabis based products and medicines are producing results that are now changing the old narrative. The cannabis extract, juices, oils are being used for medicinal purposes, and are producing phenomenal results for a variety of ailments such as PTSD, Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and a whole range of other ailments. Israel is one of the leading countries in this research and they estimate that, based on the current global demand for cannabis medications, there could be a market for Cannabis products worth $4 billion today, if not more. 

Hemp as a green alternative

The industrial use of hemp plant has been known for millenniums and even the sails of the boats that ventured out to colonise the world used hemp sails. During World War II, in 1942, the United States produced a black-and-white documentary called “Hemp for victory”, to encourage farmers to grow hemp to make ropes and clothes from hemp fibres. Yet, did not stop the US from making this plant illegal very soon after—perhaps the cigarette, polyester/cotton and alcohol lobbyists were at work. Even today research shows promising signs for marijuana and hemp use in medicine, plastic production etc. Its high concentration of cellulose could lead to the creation of bio-degradable plastics and its fibre could lead to the production of tree free paper (one acre of hemp would yield as much as four acres of tree paper). Its THC content means that it cannot be easily attacked by pests and needs very little fertiliser to grow, and is therefore environment friendly. 

While its use has been known in Nepal for centuries and people have used it to make clothes, medicines for animals and chutneys, cannabis plant cultivation and marijuana usage is illegal here. This is a cash crop that has a huge potential to change the lives of farmers. However, the government has a long way to go in terms of promoting and protecting the rights of farmers by promoting food sovereignty, fair prices, farmer cooperatives and the elimination of middle men. Unless this is achieved the status of farmers will continue to deter no matter what plant they cultivate. It is however believed that marijuana would yield four times the income to farmers than what they get now from the cultivation of current cash crops.

Uruguay has taken the lead in legalising marijuana and many states in the US as well and many countries in Europe are following suit and it is to be seen if the Nepal government has not only the courage but the vision to capitalise on this potential. However, the leaders are so busy politicking and working as commission agents that focusing on the development of the nation and the people may be asking for too much from them. 

A farmers lobby needs to develop an agriculture and rural area management strategy in which the potential of Cannabis sativa needs to be high lightened. This, along with the investment in its medicinal research will be a big boost not only to our health sector but also to our economy.

- Rawal has a Master’s in International Relations and is a Humanitarian Expert, presently covering the Middle East and North Africa region

Published: 03-12-2017 07:41

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