The economic impact of a centralized hemp policy

Nestled amidst the hills of Uttarakhand, Rajesh proudly gazes over this year’s yield. Fertile mountain soil and lush green farms, with farmers tending to the slightly weaker crop and an odd government official or two flitting between thick, bamboo-like stalks assessing the leaves and seeds while closely tracking and estimating the potential yield to prevent leakage.

With one plant, not only Rajesh but several other farming communities in the Hills and across the country may have a chance at ensuring roti, kapda, makaan and dawaai, not only for themselves and their families but to India and the rest of the world as well.

Seems far fetched?

Cannabis and its legal cousin Hemp often tend to evoke that sense of magical realism, rooted in un-reality. However, besides our inherent spiritual and cultural connection with Bhang, we have come a long way since the days of “Reefer Madness”, especially in the West.

Leading by Example

While the West has certainly contributed to strengthening the case for medical cannabis in the contemporary world, one cannot overlook India’s historic role and stance in global conversations pertaining to the same.

A crop originating from the country’s backyard had been used since time immemorial for subsistence and healing. Subjected to unfair misrepresentation and interpretation, being a narcotic was the sole identity of the multi-faceted cannabis plant which was touted as one of the most potent herbs and a giver of joy by the Atharva Veda.

Given the innate importance of Bhang to India, the time is right for us to ponder a robust policy framework which will help India capture the global industrial hemp market, transforming both agriculture and healthcare.

Barriers Galore

But this is easier said than done. The vicious cycle of lack of research due to laws and the pertinence of concrete research data to decision making has been hindering the commercial legalisation of industrial hemp. That isn’t to say that preliminary research studies at a global level and historical references from India aren’t encouraging. Considering the importance of regional research on ailments with a heavy disease burden with adequate ethnic representation for an informed decision, the extrapolation of said data points would only paint a half-accurate picture.

Secondly, global regulations stipulate that legally, a cannabis plant can be considered hemp and used for industrial and medical purposes only if it has less than or equal to 0.3%THC which is the intoxicating compound with known analgesic properties. This effectively brings about the need for a specific variety of globally compliant seeds suited to the local environment. This also solves for any potential leakage and abuse, which is also the third barrier.

Immense Opportunity

Though south-east and eastern countries such as India still face regulatory hurdles from their respective governments, there are burgeoning opportunities for commercialisation in exports, domestic manufacturing and R&D along with cultivation. Besides several medical research studies detailing the more than encouraging results to the management of various cancers, childhood epilepsy, mood disorders, PTSD and several other lifestyle diseases, cannabis offers several benefits from a cultivation perspective as well. A streamlined and structured market will help farmers get fair prices for their yield. Furthermore, the very nature of the cannabis plants is such that it is resilient and can be grown in rotation with other crops. Such a practice can improve the fertility and carbon sequestration of the soil. From a climate change perspective, the high carbon sequestration of the crop helps reduce the amount of atmospheric CO2.

While India embarks on a journey to legally recognize industrial hemp and medical cannabis within the health and agriculture sectors, preliminary reports from the West indicate the strong need for a robust and transparent policy ecosystem which will ensure no part of the value chain gets left behind.

Regulations are Key

While other South Asian countries are grappling with operational and/or logistical issues,India’s challenges lie within; the legal framework, the lack of clinical research, and the issue of states acting independently. Given the nascency of the sector in India, there are three specific aspects of the aforementioned points which need immediate attention, viz.

Instilling regulatory confidence amongst the States with regards to specific sections of the NDPS Act Unify States on permissible THC levels in Industrial Cannabis to prevent scope of abuse through pilferage and increase scope for medical research and application Harmonizing regulations between the States as well as the State and Central governments Building bureaucratic confidence is a function of rigorous awareness, education and dialogue.

However, consensus among States and the Center regarding THC and its permissible limit is crucial to understanding the compound itself, its psychoactive properties and potential as a sustainable remedy to various ailments. Mitigating this challenge is imperative to the medical and pharmaceutical applications and thus, the growth of the medical cannabis sector.

As per the second edition of The Asian Cannabis Report, around 15 million people use bhang in India each year. This represents a massive, legal and often overlooked market for cannabis-derived products in Asia. Legalization would offer significant economic benefits globally and within the country in addition to supplying safe, regulated products to customers and remedying the barriers to access. It is equally crucial to leverage India’s pharmaceutical and R&D prowess to accelerate momentum towards knowledge and development in the field of medical cannabis in order to fully utilise its benefits for chronically ill patients and more.

Any advances in India will have a massive impact on the global stage, as the sheer size of the population poses a very lucrative opportunity for organizations as well as investors. The first hints of this progress have already been seen in recent years. Through rigorous research and a transparent policy framework rooted in patient centricity, India can cement itself as the leader of the global medical cannabis and industrial market. A myopic view of a plant which has the capability to transform 25+ industries and mitigate climate change will only hold us back from providing access to holistic health solutions, doubling farmers incomes and Making & Discovering in India. It’s high time we change this.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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