The cannabis industry: India’s untouched gold mine

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The global legal marijuana market is expected to reach USD 146.4 billion by the end of 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. Usually a topic of debate, due to its medical benefits, cannabis also has a huge potential to boost India’s economy and create millions of jobs. As a nation, we have enormous learning about its utilisation and good climatic conditions for its production. Legalising cannabis would pave the way for India to be a key player in the industry and carve a niche for ourselves as pioneers of cannabis-based products.

Image source: Tom Maisey/Flickr.

In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, introduced the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act which ensured complete prohibition on sale and purchase of Ganja (bud) and Charas (resin) in India. However, the drug had already been illegal in the country for over two decades because the Indian government had signed the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty in 1961. Many blamed the PM for succumbing to America’s pressure which began its war on drugs in 1971, long before India.

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Although India’s ‘war on drugs’ story is, I think, not as heartbreaking as the USA’s, where a particular community has paid a hefty price over the decades just for the possession and consumption of a plant. The prohibition meant the rise of drug mafias and cartels, and a huge quantity of marijuana was smuggled in across borders to meet the demand. A lack of supply and growing demand meant the quality of weed was compromised for quick bucks. From boot polish to other cheap psychoactive drugs, peddlers added it all to the drugs.

A man smokes cannabis through a chillum.

Instead of regulating its supply, like an economic commodity, we brushed aside the topic from the public sphere, resulting in the creation of a taboo around it. Fast forward to today, social awareness campaigns like the Great Legalisation Movement have been educating masses about the benefits of Marijuana and Hemp. Support from Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, BJP MP Maneka Gandhi, and BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy for medical marijuana legalisation has garnered wide attention.

“Regulation allows cannabis buyers to know what they’re consuming and moderate their intake, in the same way that a drinker can distinguish and choose between a whiskey and a beer. Imposing a tax on cannabis sales can create revenue that can be spent on educating people about the risks of cannabis use, as we already do with public service information on alcohol and tobacco,” writes Shashi Tharoor, in The Print.

In October last year, Canada took the historic decision of legalising recreational marijuana after 95 years of prohibition. The total cannabis market in Canada, including medical, illegal, and legal recreational products, is expected to generate up to $7.17 billion in sales in 2019 — up to $4.34 billion of which will come from the legal recreational market. According to the Grand View report, the U.S. legal marijuana market size was estimated at USD 7.06 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 24.9% from 2017 to 2025.

Cannabis-centric start-ups and products have already entered the Indian market. These early birds are the Bombay Hemp Company, incorporated in 2013; it raised about $1m from a group of investors including the likes of Ratan Tata.

Be Hemp, a Bangalore-based company, promotes the use of edible hemp seeds and protein for a healthier lifestyle. Hemp Cann, a Bhubaneswar-based start-up, imports hemp products from countries that have legalised hemp.

An unregulated criminal market and a growing number of youngsters using marijuana can be a harmful duo for a progressive society. Therefore, there is a need for an open discussion regarding cannabis. It’s time for the government to legalise India’s sacred plant for medical research purposes in the first phase. Then, create a supply chain to regulate the flow of cannabis across the country in the second phase. 

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