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Decriminalisation of Marijuana in India

Decriminalization of Marijuana in India

The ongoing debate surrounding the potential decriminalization of marijuana in India is multifaceted and encompasses a range of dimensions. This includes the legal implications of changing existing regulations, the cultural impact on society, the potential economic ramifications, and the implications for healthcare and medical practices. The discussion covers a wide array of perspectives and considerations, reflecting the complexity of this issue.

Current Legal Status  of Decriminalisation of Marijuana in India

Presently, marijuana (cannabis) is governed by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985. This comprehensive law prohibits the production, sale, purchase, and consumption of cannabis products, except for specific allowances for the medical and scientific use of cannabis leaves and seeds. These allowances require permission from state governments.

Arguments for Decriminalization

1. Medical Benefits

  • Cannabis has been found to have therapeutic properties, providing relief from pain, alleviating nausea, and offering effective treatment for conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
  • Decriminalizing marijuana could pave the way for extensive research and wider medical application of its benefits.

2. Economic Gains

  • Legalizing marijuana could lead to the establishment of new revenue streams through taxation, potentially boosting the economy.
  • Additionally, it has the potential to create job opportunities in various sectors including agriculture, retail, and regulatory areas.

3. Social Justice

  • Existing laws have a disproportionately negative impact on marginalized communities, exacerbating social inequalities.
  • Decriminalization could help alleviate the strain on the criminal justice system and contribute to reducing prison overcrowding.

4. Reduction in Crime

  • By legalizing marijuana, there is a possibility of reducing the illegal drug trade and associated criminal activities.
  • Furthermore, it could redirect law enforcement focus from marijuana users to more pressing criminal issues.

Arguments Against Decriminalization

1. Health Concerns

  • There are concerns regarding the potential increase in marijuana use, particularly among young people, and the potential long-term health effects.
  • Risks of addiction and mental health issues are frequently mentioned.

2. Social Impact

  • Some individuals are of the opinion that decriminalization could result in higher rates of drug abuse and related social issues.

3. Regulatory Challenges

  • Establishing a comprehensive regulatory framework to oversee the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana could pose significant complexities.
  • Ensuring quality control and preventing illegal diversion would present substantial challenges.

Global Perspective

Internationally, the perception and legal status of marijuana are changing. Several countries and states within countries (such as Canada, Uruguay, and various U.S. states) have moved towards decriminalization or full legalization. This shift is primarily motivated by medical benefits and economic gains.

The global perspective on the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana varies significantly across different regions and countries and is influenced by cultural, political, economic, and social factors. Below is a summary of how different parts of the world are handling this issue:

North America

United States:

  • Recreational Use: As of 2024, 23 states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana.
  • Medical Use: Medical marijuana is legal in 38 states.
  • Federal Stance: Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, creating a complex legal landscape.


  • Legalization: Canada legalized recreational marijuana nationwide in October 2018, becoming the second country to do so after Uruguay.
  • Regulation: The Cannabis Act regulates the production, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana.

South America


  • Pioneer: Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize marijuana in December 2013, regulating its production, sale, and consumption.


  • Decriminalization: Possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized. Medical marijuana is legal and regulated.



  • Tolerance Policy: Known for its progressive stance, the Netherlands allows the sale of small quantities of marijuana in licensed coffee shops.
  • Cultivation: Commercial cultivation remains illegal, though personal cultivation for personal use is tolerated.


  • Decriminalization: Portugal decriminalized all drugs, including marijuana, in 2001. Possession for personal use is not a criminal offense but rather an administrative one.


  • Medical Use: Medical marijuana has been legal since 2017.
  • Recreational Use: Plans to legalize recreational marijuana are in progress, with legislation expected to be introduced soon.



  • Medical Use: Thailand legalized medical marijuana in 2018, becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so.
  • Decriminalization: In 2022, Thailand removed cannabis from its narcotics list, effectively decriminalizing its use.


  • Medical Use: Israel has been at the forefront of medical marijuana research and legalized its medical use in the early 1990s.
  • Recreational Use: Decriminalization of small amounts for personal use is in place, with ongoing discussions about further reforms.



  • Medical Use: Medical marijuana was legalized in 2016.
  • Recreational Use: The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) decriminalized possession and cultivation for personal use in 2020.

New Zealand:

  • Medical Use: Medical marijuana was legalized in 2020.
  • Recreational Use: A referendum in 2020 narrowly voted against legalizing recreational marijuana.


South Africa:

  • Decriminalization: In 2018, South Africa’s Constitutional Court decriminalized the private use and cultivation of marijuana.
  • Medical Use: Medical marijuana is legal and regulated.


  • Pioneer: Lesotho became the first African country to legalize the cultivation of medical marijuana in 2017.

Public Opinion in India

Public opinion in India is slowly changing, as more people become aware of the potential benefits of marijuana. Advocacy groups and some political leaders have been vocal about the need to review and reform the current laws.

General Trends

1. Support Among Youth

  • Changing Attitudes: Younger generations, especially those in urban areas, are more open to the idea of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana. Exposure to global trends and increased access to information play significant roles in shaping their opinions.
  • Advocacy and Activism: Various youth-led advocacy groups and activists are vocal about the potential benefits of marijuana legalization, including its medical uses and economic benefits.

2. Medical Use

  • Growing Acceptance: There is increasing public awareness and acceptance of marijuana’s medical benefits. Many people support the use of cannabis for medical purposes, especially for chronic pain and other debilitating conditions.
  • Support from Medical Professionals: Some healthcare professionals advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana, citing evidence of its therapeutic benefits.

3. Economic Considerations

  • Potential Revenue: The economic argument for legalization, including potential tax revenues and job creation, resonates with a section of the public. This perspective is particularly relevant in the context of India’s ongoing economic challenges.

Cultural and Social Factors

1. Traditional Use

  • Historical Context: Cannabis has a long history of traditional use in India, particularly in religious and cultural contexts. Bhang, a cannabis-based drink, is consumed during festivals like Holi and Shivratri, which lends a degree of cultural acceptance to the substance.
  • Ayurveda: Some people support the use of cannabis in traditional medicine and Ayurveda, viewing it as a natural remedy with historical precedent.

2. Social Stigma

  • Perception of Drug Use: Despite some cultural acceptance, there is still significant social stigma associated with marijuana use. Many people, particularly in conservative and rural areas, view it as a harmful drug.
  • Moral and Religious Opposition: Certain religious and moral viewpoints strongly oppose any form of drug use, including marijuana, citing potential social and moral decay.

Legal and Policy Perspectives

1. Current Law Enforcement

  • NDPS Act: The strict regulations under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act contribute to the public’s cautious stance on marijuana. Fear of legal repercussions affects public opinion.
  • Law Enforcement Practices: The enforcement of marijuana laws is often seen as arbitrary and inconsistent, leading to calls for reform and decriminalization to reduce legal and judicial burdens.

2. Political Will

  • Government Stance: The government’s position on marijuana has been conservative, focusing on control and regulation rather than decriminalization. However, there are occasional discussions and debates among policymakers about potential reforms.
  • State Initiatives: Some states, like Uttarakhand, have taken steps towards regulating cannabis cultivation for industrial and medical purposes, indicating a shift at the state level.

Surveys and Studies

1. Public Surveys

  • Mixed Results: Surveys and studies on public opinion reveal a mixed landscape. While some urban and younger demographics show support for decriminalization, a significant portion of the population remains skeptical or opposed.
  • Educational Campaigns: Advocates for legalization emphasize the need for educational campaigns to inform the public about the benefits and risks of marijuana use.

Government Stance

While there have been discussions and reports suggesting a more lenient approach towards cannabis, the Indian government has yet to make significant legislative changes. However, some states have shown interest in exploring the cultivation of cannabis for industrial and medical purposes.

The Indian government takes a conservative approach toward the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana, emphasizing control and regulation over liberalization. The following are the key points outlining the government’s position:

Legal Framework

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, of 1985 criminalizes various activities related to cannabis, prescribing strict penalties for violations.

Government’s Current Stance

Medical Use

The government has shown some openness to the medicinal use of cannabis, allowing its cultivation for research and medicinal purposes in certain states under strict regulatory controls.

Industrial Use

Hemp cultivation for industrial purposes is permitted, with some states promoting its cultivation for various products.

Policy Discussions and Initiatives

Some states have allowed controlled cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes, signaling a shift in approach at the state level. However, the central government remains cautious and emphasizes strict regulation and control.

Political and Bureaucratic Views

The government’s conservative approach focuses on public health concerns and the prevention of substance abuse and misuse of drugs. While some advocate for reforms, there is resistance from conservative elements within the government and society.

Recent Developments

The issue of marijuana decriminalization has been raised occasionally in parliamentary debates, but no significant legislative changes have been made at the national level. The government is aware of global trends towards decriminalization and legalization, which influence policy considerations in India.


The decriminalization of marijuana in India involves weighing the potential benefits against the risks and challenges. It would require a comprehensive approach, including public education, a robust regulatory framework, and strong health and social support systems to manage the transition effectively.

Globally, the trend toward decriminalization and legalization of marijuana is growing, with an increasing number of countries recognizing the potential benefits of medical marijuana and the economic opportunities presented by the regulated recreational market. The approaches vary widely, from full legalization to decriminalization, and are influenced by each country’s unique legal, cultural, and social contexts. This shift reflects changing attitudes towards cannabis, emphasizing harm reduction, economic benefits, and medical applications.

Public opinion in India on marijuana decriminalization and legalization is diverse and multifaceted. While there is growing support, particularly among younger and urban populations, significant cultural, social, and legal barriers remain. Shifting public perception will likely require continued advocacy, education, and evidence-based policy discussions. The historical and cultural context of cannabis in India provides a unique backdrop to these evolving attitudes, suggesting that change, while gradual, is possible.

The Indian government prioritizes control and regulation over decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, with some openness to medical and industrial uses. While state-level initiatives and public advocacy push for more progressive changes, substantial legal reforms in the immediate future appear unlikely.

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Shreya Sharma
Shreya Sharma
As a passionate legal student , I am thrilled to embark on a promising internship in the realm of law articles. Through my writing, I am determined to unravel the intricate complexities of the legal world and make a meaningful impact. This is my opportunity to combine theory and practice, and I am ready to take on the challenge with enthusiasm and dedication.
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