Should marijuana be legalized?

Setopati files

This is not a whimsical question. It is about time to revisit our stance on marijuana, consumed for millennia by the Hindus, as the West looks to embrace its multiple benefits.

Newly elected Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern has recently announced parliament discussions on legalizing marijuana. Legalizing the use of marijuana by 2020 with age restriction was her election agenda. She is not alone in the campaign.

Following in her footsteps, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has filed a bill related to legalizing marijuana in the parliament.

Various researches have proved the virtue of using marijuana in medicinal drugs, and many countries have already legalized it recognizing its value.

Uruguay is the first country to have embraced it legally. Other countries like Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Colombia followed suit. Australia, Austria, Germany and Israel have given permission to use it as medicine.

Nepal is a country where marijuana has been used for ages in Ayurveda. However in 1970, the then Nepali government banned it under pressure from the United States of America.

Now the question is whether Nepal is ready to embrace it again legally especially in the context when many countries and 22 states of the US itself have legalized it.

Setopati took up the matter with the authorities concerned just before the elections to the House of Representatives and State Assemblies. Should the new parliament legalize marijuana?

“The issue should be discussed extensively,” said Chief of the Singha Durbar Baidhyakhana Bamshadip Sharma Kharel.

He considered the issue to be a ‘dispute’ between eastern and western philosophies. “Westerners take a thing to be good at first, and then we (Nepalis) follow them. And when they change their opinion, we fall into a dilemma,” he said. “That is true even with marijuana. We must conduct a research and hold discussions on whether use of marijuana will be legalized; especially in the context many countries have embraced it legally.”

Chief of Ayurveda Campus under the Tribhuvan University DB Rokka is of the view that marijuana ban should be reviewed.

“Various age-old researches have proved its benefits. The new government can launch research again, but the blanket ban is not appropriate,” he said.

What are its benefits?

The fact that its scientifically-proven benefits far outweighs the harms has helped it get legal status in many countries.

It is useful in killing cells that spread cancer in the body, and in treating alcohol and other drug addictions.

It is also used in treating runny nose, premature ejaculation, diarrhea, excessive pain and mental problems. Cannabis-mixed Ayurvedic drugs named Laxmibilas RasSarpagandha, and Modananand Modak to treat runny nose, insomnia and high blood pressure and mental problems like depression respectively.

Likewise, the Baidhyakhana produced cannabis-mixed drugs like Poorna Chandrodaya Ras and Bhog Sundari can treat premature ejaculation and increase sexual power respectively.

According to various researches carried out in different times, marijuana plays a supportive role in treating glaucoma, epilepsy, insomnia, Alzheimer’s disease, body pains and indigestion.

 Likewise, another report of ‘Journal of Sexual Medicine’ published recently claimed to have found more sexual power in those consuming marijuana as compared to those who do not use it. The report was prepared by researchers for Stanford University in the US Dr Michael Aizenberg and Dr Andrew Son, and the experiment was conducted among 50,000 people aged 25-45 years from 2002 to 2015.

During the study, the participants were asked how many times they consumed marijuana in a year, and how many times they had sexual intercourse in the first four weeks of its consumption.

The respondents said they had sexual intercourse many times during the period when they consumed marijuana than normal time.

“Cannabis-mixed drugs had been used for ages as alternative drugs to numb patient’s body parts and relieve pains particularly at a time when anesthetic drugs were not available,” said Kharel.

“Cannabis-mixed drugs help in alleviating pains of cancer patients and treating depression,” he added.Ramban Ras or Ratobari drugs that have contents of cannabis will treat diarrhea, he claimed.

“I was working for a health post in Mangaltar in Kavre,” he recalled, “It was 1989 and it would take around a day to walk to the health post from Panauti.” A girl, around nine years old, from Panauti was suffering from diarrhea. But the health post lacked oral rehydration salts like Jeevan Jal to administer to the patient.

“I administered her Ratobari and a mixture of clean water, salt and sugar, and the patient recovered and went home,” he said.

Sadly, the Baidhyakhana stopped producing cannabis-mixed drugs following the then government’s move toban marijuana under pressure from the western countries.

“We are bound hand and foot by the International Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Some drugs that are imported into Nepal from India may have contents of cannabis though,” he said.

Cannabis, according to him, is used to manufacture medicines in two ways. In an instance, only a small quantity of cannabis is sprinkled to make medicines as per the needs. In another way, cannabis seeds are directly used to manufacture medicines. In many cases, drugs that are made using cannabis may not have the cover specifying the use of ingredients, he said.

Grinded cannabis leaves, its dried seeds or seeds cooked in milk can be used to make medicines. He, however, refused to call it absolutely beneficial. It may increase heartbeats and affect respiratory system and general physical body movements. It will be beneficial if its use is controlled and it is used in right amount, according to various researches.

“Ayurveda holds that any drug can work if taken in right amount. The same is the case with marijuana,” said Ayurveda Campus Chief Rokka.

Ayurveda vs. modern science

Like marijuana ban in Nepal under pressure from western countries, many other Ayurvedic medicines are also facing a risk. Mercury can be taken as an example. Mercury is being called harmful nowadays and its use is decreasing lately. In the medical sector, mercury thermometer and devices for checking blood pressure level that use mercury have been banned. Mercury is being used to make medicines after processing it and extracting harmful contents from it, Kharel said.

“Westerners are trying to discourage mercury. If it faces a blanket ban like marijuana, we will be forced to close producing Ayurveda drugs,” he said. “Taking the issue into account, we are voicing the need for allowing the use of marijuana and mercury in an easy manner.”

Rokka concurred with Kharel pointing out effects on the entire Ayurveda if mercury is banned completely. “There is no instance of a person dying by consuming mercury-mixed drugs in its age-old history. If mercuryis banned, we will lose its benefits, and will find difficulties in legalizing it in the next 25 to 30 years,” he said.

“Modern science has proved that human body needs minerals like zinc, copper and iron. Zinc supplement is prescribed to control diarrhea, and iron pills to increase blood in human body,” said Rokka.

He also stressed on the need for refining Ayurvedic knowledge of marijuana and for the sectors concerned like the Ministry of Health and the Baidyakhana to bring an integrated program to this effect.

“We can hold discussions and get suggestions from Ayurveda professors of university if the government feels necessary. We can determine its merits and demerits, and recommend its use in medicines after specifying its amount and processing,” he said. “I also see the possibility of exporting it to the international market if we can make use of it in a proper way.”

 “There is the need for preserving knowledge about benefits of marijuana we have especially in the context scientific experiments have proven its use in medicines, else we may lose the knowledge or it may be stolen. All including the Baidhyakhana, the National Ayurveda Research and Training Center, the Ministry of Health and the Department of Drug Administration should work together in this regard,” said Baidhyakhana Chief Kharel.

Marijuana history of Nepal

Nepal has a long history of marijuana use. Marijuana would be produced as cash crop in some districts in the plains like Bara, Parsa, Siraha, Dhanusha and Mahottari and some other central and western hilly districts. It has been said that Nepali marijuana had built its brand in India and other countries during the Second World War. Foreign sadhus (hermits) would flock to Kathmandu to consume marijuana at the beginning of the Hippie era. There was no legal framework in place to look after it then. Kathmandu had around 30 shops dealing in marijuana and hashish then. The foreigners would reach marijuana shops in Ason and New Road of Kathmandu to consume branded marijuana.

Following its increasing trade, the then government brought Narcotic Drugs Act in 1961, and the following year, made it mandatory to have a license to produce, sell, and export and import it. The government launched a clampdown on its production and trade since 16 July, 1973 under pressure from the United Nations. This happened at a time when the marijuana market had begun contributing a big share to revenue collection inNepal, and when other Asian and western countries had not banned it. But the Narcotic Control Board of the UN had categorized marijuana as a hard drug like heroin then.

Marijuana has been accepted traditionally in the Nepali society. Our ancestors would use and consume marijuana to treat insomnia, body pains and boredom, and domesticated animals. It is also used as alms for hermits, and as necessary ingredients to conduct various Hindu rituals. Its use follows Hindu religion in Nepal. There is a tradition to consume hemp, an edible preparation of cannabis, during Hindu festival Holi in Nepal and India.

Canada’s experience an example for Nepal 

If the new parliament decides to legalize marijuana, its implementation will not be that easy. It requires long-term discussions and preparations for the process, and Canada’s experience with the issue could be a helping hand.

According to the marijuana-related bill presented in the Canadian Parliament by Prime Minister JustinTrudeau, marijuana will be legal in Canada in the next eight months. Central and provincial governments have joined hands for its preparations.

According to The New York Times, of the 10 provinces of Canada which are gearing up for legalizing marijuana, three have prepared a draft for the operation and regulation of marijuana market, while the remaining seven are holding discussions. One of the important questions is what the cost of marijuana will be after its legalization and how much will be charged in tax.

Other challenges are ahead too. There is no clarity in whether its sale is permitted only to a government trading center or in all areas. What amount a person is prescribed to consume a day? Or what amount a person can produce? Whether driving is allowed after consuming it?

Black marketeering and its smuggling can increase following its legalization. A strong security mechanism is required.

Nepal may also face all these challenges Canada is facing at present in course of legalizing marijuana.

Another challenge is the International Convention on Narcotic Drugs that has enlisted marijuana as a prohibited drug. Canada as a signatory probably will be required to clarify its move to legalize marijuana.

Nepal is also a signatory, and it may also be under pressure in the name of the Convention to not lift marijuana ban.



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