Hemp and the Law: Hemp’s legal history in India

Hemp and the Law

When we use the word ‘hemp’ in conversation, usually people mistake it for another plant of the same species that is marijuana or ‘ganja’. Marijuana is a form of the cannabis Indica strain. It’s used for recreational purposes due to its psychoactive qualities. A different species of cannabis called cannabis Sativa provides us with hemp. This can be utilised for industrial purposes to make clothes, plastics, building materials, beauty products etc. So, as for the question, ‘Will using hemp products get me high?’ The answer is no, the hallucinogenic ingredient called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in cannabis is present in very little quantities in hemp as compared to marijuana. Where marijuana has about 20 per cent THC present, hemp has a mere 0.3 per cent. This is way less than required for someone to experience the ‘high’ that you get from marijuana. 

History of Hemp

In earlier times, cannabis has played an important role throughout India’s history. Be it in festivals such as Holi where ‘bhaang is considered an essential part of the holiday. Or when the Vedas mentioned cannabis and deemed it one of the five sacred plants. People throughout history have been using hemp to make clothes and for nutritional and medicinal uses. But this mistake of considering hemp and marijuana as the same plant has been a challenge for companies that want to use this plant. Making it difficult to set up a sustainable and eco-friendly industry which offers quality products to its customers.

Currently, the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) of 1985 deems cannabis as a narcotic and lays regulations for the production and sale of the plant. This act prohibits the sale of cannabis resin and flowers but has exempted the seeds, leaves, and the stem. The central government has allowed state governments to follow their own model of the policy for industrial and medicinal use.

Higher Approval

Recent developments in this field include when in 2016 Uttarakhand became the first state in India to legalise the large scale production and cultivation of hemp for commercial use. This was under Section 14 of the NDPS Act of 1985. This plant has a small water requirement, in states like Uttarakhand which suffer from water scarcity it’s a sustainable alternative to conventional crops.

The year 2021 saw another huge reform on the topic. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) allowed the regulation of hemp as a food source. Published in The Gazette of India: Extraordinary, Part III, Section 4 on November 15 2021. According to this, the sale of all hemp-based food products as food or ingredients in the markets is legal.

Considering the rapidly changing world and the potential of this ‘wonder plant’; generating awareness about hemp and its benefits becomes important. The constant hard work of hemp companies, with the support of the people and the government, can bring about a change in our lifestyles for the better. For now, it is safe to say that the future looks bright for all hemp-related industries.