With a section of growers in Himachal Pradesh has been demanding the cultivation of cannabis as an alternative crop should be legally allowed as fruit crops have been facing weather vagaries every year. Also, the stiff competition from the imported cheaper apples has severely hit their earnings.
In the ‘high-pitch’ demand of growers and more importantly the state reeling under the heavy financial debt trap of more than Rs 75, 000 crore, the Congress government led by first-time Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu is mulling to legalise the controlled cultivation of hemp for medicinal purposes to economic boom, mainly to strengthen the rural economy, besides to capture business away from illicit sellers.
Experts told IANS the selective cultivation of cannabis could annually generate a revenue of Rs 800 to Rs 1, 000 crore.
They say there is a huge demand for opium, an extract of the poppy, in the pharmaceutical industry. Also, the climatic condition in the state is congenial for its cultivation.
States like Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have also allowed selective cultivation of poppy which greatly helped to strengthen the rural economy.
In Himachal Pradesh, the wild poppy grows in the Alpine regions of the Himalayas along the glacial streams at altitudes of 12, 000 to 18, 000 feet.
“Controlled cultivation of cannabis would ensure remunerative returns for apple growers who are only depending upon them for the earnings, ” said Ramesh Singta, a prominent apple grower in Jubbal, Shimla’s prominent apple belt.
“Since most of the apple plantation needs rejuvenation, a costly proposition, the legalised cultivation of opium will reap handsome returns, ” he added.
Another grower Naresh Dhaulta told IANS the cultivation of opium would help check its illegal cultivation as it grows even naturally in the wild.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Indian opium has a great advantage over Turkish and Iranian opium, in so far as Turkish opium contains less than one per cent of codeine on the average, and Iranian opium about 2.5 per cent, whereas Indian opium, apart from its high morphine content, gives an average of 3.5 per cent of codeine.
Police officials say cannabis and opium fields are grown illegally in vast tracts of Kullu, Mandi, Shimla and Chamba districts, leading to a serious problem of drug cultivation, trafficking and its use.
In Kullu district the plantation of cannabis is more confined to the higher reaches of Malana, Kasol and other areas, while in Chamba district, bordering the Doda area of Jammu and Kashmir, it is done mainly in the remote areas of Kehar, Tissa and Bharmour.
More than 60 per cent of the poppy and cannabis produced in Himachal Pradesh is smuggled out to countries like Israel, Italy, Holland and other European countries. The remaining finds its way to Nepal or Indian states like Goa, Punjab and Delhi.
The volume of this murky trade can be gauged from a government reply in the Assembly this month that 530 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act were registered and 729 arrested in just three months from December 1, 2022.
State’s Anti-Narcotics Task Force this month alone registered 36 cases under the NDPS Act and seized over 10 kg charas and 460 gm heroin.
Now to battle the illicit trade, the government believes the cultivation of cannabis would play a significant role not only in generating revenue but also prove to be beneficial for patients owing to medicinal properties. Also it can be used for pharmaceutical industry.
To build political consensus, an official statement quoting Chief Minister Sukhu said the government is cautious about the potential increase in drug use and has formed a five-member committee of legislators.
The committee, led by Horticulture and Revenue Minister Jagat Singh Negi, will conduct a thorough study about each and every aspect related to cannabis cultivation. It will visit areas where illegal cultivation of cannabis takes place and submit a report. And on the basis of the report the government will take any decision.
Justifying the rationale behind this move, the Chief Minister told the media that the neighbouring state Uttarakhand has become the first state in the country to legalise cannabis cultivation in 2017, while controlled cultivation of cannabis is also being done in some districts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Similarly, the controlled cultivation of cannabis has been permitted in several European and western countries like Uruguay, Canada, the US, Austria, Belgium and the Czech Republic.
He said the government would consider all aspects, including regulatory measures, and will study other states that have legalised it before arriving at a final decision.
According to Sukhu, Section 10 (a) (iii) of the NDPS Act empowers the states to make rules regarding the cultivation of any cannabis plant, production, possession, transport, consumption, use and purchase and sale, consumption of cannabis (except charas).
“States are empowered to permit, by general or special order, the cultivation of hemp only for obtaining fibber or seeds or for horticultural purposes, ” he added.
At the first meeting of the committee of lawmakers on April 27, Revenue Minister Negi said the government is going to adopt an altogether approach of non-narcotic use of hemp plants.
He added the committee is looking at all aspects of the regulations and policy framework to open the market for medical and industrial use of hemp to provide patients with access to safer natural medicines and for making available biodegradable or organic alternatives to plastic and construction material.
Foreign investment is also expected in the coming years.
Multiple high-value products across various industries like pharmaceuticals, Ayurveda, textiles, food and cosmetics can be made with the fibre, seed, leaf and flower of the hemp, Negi said.
Lured by cheap hashish, the police admit foreigners settled illegally in remote villages have been actively involved in smuggling narcotics. They have been indulged in providing high-yield variety cannabis seeds to local growers for planting in various high-altitude areas.
Malana, a village in the Kullu Valley, has long been notorious for cultivating the prized ‘Malana Cream’ hashish, a purified resinous extract of cannabis.
Of late, the increasing involvement of Nepalese, the backbone of the state’s horticulture economy, in the narcotic trade is a matter of concern. They are procuring cheap charas from Nepal and selling it in the name of ‘Malana Cream’ in India.