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It will worsen addiction, endanger India’s youth, poor and illiterate | India News


Even as the world moves toward legalizing recreational and medicinal marijuana, opinion is divided in the land of bhang laddoo and thandai.
The great addictive potential of cannabis is indisputable. However, the reasons commonly argued in favor of legalization are: it has been used since ancient times; has medicinal benefit; it is less harmful (than tobacco / alcohol that are legally available); it is a source of income; it is an expression of freedom; bans don’t work; it will reduce the burden on our enforcement agencies, etc. Let me demolish all these unfounded and false narratives.
Some argue that cannabis has been part of the Indian tradition and our ancestors used it for thousands of years. The increase in life expectancy from 32 years in 1947 to 68 years in 2018 shows that we are healthier and live longer than our ancestors. Our Constitution establishes in article 47 that the State will strive to achieve the prohibition of consumption, except for medicinal purposes, of intoxicating beverages and drugs that are harmful to health. The Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act was enacted in 1985 to curb drug addiction. According to government surveys, 2.8% of the population report having used some cannabis product, and 1.2% use illegal cannabis products (ganja, hashish, and charas). By contrast, nearly 22% of Americans currently use it, with the definition of “current use” being at least one or two times in the past year. This shows that the NDPS Act has contributed to a low rate of addiction in India. It is worth mentioning here that among those who use cannabis casually, about 9% become addicted. For those trying to quit smoking, relapse rates go up to 71%.

It will worsen addiction, endanger India's youth, poor and illiterate | India News

The medicinal benefits are not as strong as those put forward by advocates of legalization. None of these formulations have gone through the rigors of clinical trials and regulatory approval. However, there are better alternatives. The US FDA has approved it as a treatment only for a very rare form of epilepsy. That said, there are no restrictions on growing and sourcing cannabis for drug discovery or research. Cannabis is claimed to be a good source of oil, fiber, paper, clothing, string, etc. With unproven commercial viability, why are some interested in it when there are safer alternatives?
Cannabis derivatives have serious health consequences depending on the type, duration and frequency of use. Adults who smoke marijuana regularly have impaired neural connectivity, low IQ, and a greater predisposition to chronic psychotic disorders, anxiety, depression, traffic accidents, and suicidal tendencies. Since cannabis is primarily smoked, it is associated with an increased risk of lung disease, cancer, stroke, and heart attack. Cannabis use during pregnancy damages the baby’s brain development.
Long-term data emerging from California, Colorado, and Uruguay show that marijuana legalization has not achieved its goals, except for more revenue. There, public opinion was largely based on racial discrimination, police excesses, the degree of punishment, imprisonment, the desire for freedom, etc. After legalization, new types of crimes have emerged such as illegal cultivation, sale, production, etc. It is unlikely to solve the drug threat in some parts of India. Likewise, our law enforcement agencies will continue to be burdened with different drug-related problems.
Legalization will only make matters worse in a country that is already struggling with tobacco, alcohol, and areca nuts. Almost 270 million Indians use tobacco and it kills 1.35 million a year. The number of areca nut users is estimated to be very high because 200 million smokeless tobacco users chew it along with areca nuts. Almost 30% of adults in India consume alcohol, causing 0.3 million deaths per year. Once legalized, the predatory marketing of cannabis will affect vulnerable populations, such as the young, the poor, the illiterate, etc., and will establish a large market that will make future regulations impossible. It is quite evident that our younger generation is growing up in an age of personal freedom, increasing wealth, predisposition to addiction and struggling with personal relationships.
In India, where prescription drugs have been greatly abused, legalizing cannabis is a bad idea. Being in a critical geographic location on the drug smuggling hub – ‘Golden Triangle’ and ‘Golden Crescent’ – we must be aware of possible international influence on the legalization movement. Promoting addiction and suffering among millions is a high price to pay for protecting the freedom of a handful of libertarians.
( Chaturvedi is deputy director, Cancer Epidemiology Center, Tata Memorial Hospital. Aditi Chaturvedi and Kirit P Mehta from Law School, NMIMS (Mumbai) also contributed)

Times of India