How will Nepal handle marijuana cultivation?

Tapendra Karki

KATHMANDU, June 15: The subject of exploring the potential for the cultivation of cannabis, which is internationally known as ‘green gold’, has been included in the budget for the next fiscal year (FY 2023/24). However, amending the national laws to achieve this goal is not enough as the government has to abide by the international conventions as well.

For a long time, some activists have been demanding the legalization of marijuana cultivation. Marijuana cultivation is still not possible in Nepal due to legal restrictions. But the government has said that it has included in the budget to carry out a feasibility study for cannabis farming for medicinal uses in Nepal.

In the past too, the government created a debate on the issue of marijuana cultivation. The debate started after a bill was registered in the previous session of parliament to regulate and manage cannabis cultivation. A bill was registered in the parliament, especially pointing out the medicinal properties and economic potential of marijuana. Since then, there has been a debate whether or not to legalize cannabis cultivation in Nepal. Now, when the proposal was forwarded in parliament through the budget, MPs applauded and supported it.

CPN (Unified Socialist) lawmaker Birodh Khatiwada was the first to raise the issue of cultivating marijuana for medical use and research during the term of the previous government. The then CPN (Unified Socialist) lawmaker Sher Bahadur Tamang had registered the bill on marijuana in the parliament.

Even now, he is engaged in the campaign to legalize marijuana cultivation. Also, the Karnali Province government has already mentioned in the annual policy and program that the cultivation of cannabis, which belongs to the marijuana species, to be done for extraction of oil for exports. This program created a debate on the issue of marijuana cultivation because the federal government currently stands in favor of a blanket ban on cannabis cultivation. Marijuana is strictly prohibited. Even though marijuana can be cultivated in 23 districts of Nepal, it is banned at the moment.

Legalizing marijuana farming in Nepal not only requires amending the Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act 2033, but it is necessary to send an application to the Narcotic Convention to convince the International Narcotics Control Board. Experts say that farming isn’t easily possible as mentioned in the budget.

Section 4 (A) of the Narcotics Control Act, 2033 prohibits cultivation, production, preparation, purchase, sale, distribution, export or import, transportation, storage or consumption of marijuana. According to which, a person who consumes marijuana can be imprisoned for up to one month and fined up to Rs 2000. Life imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 500,000 have been mentioned for marijuana dealers. The Act classifies hemp, leaf, flower of the same family as well as the latex and hashish that come from the plant as narcotics. Marijuana cultivation has been banned in Nepal due to the fact that medicines made by mixing these components are classified as narcotics in the law.

Nepal is a signatory to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, which classifies marijuana as a hard drug like heroin. Some countries have signed the convention on the condition to make medicines from cannabis.

Canada signed the convention on the condition that it exempts the use of marijuana for both medical and non-medical purposes. However, Nepal has accepted all the conditions mentioned in the convention. Therefore, in order to release marijuana in Nepal, it is necessary to submit an application to the Narcotic Convention, which cannot be done only by amending the Narcotic Drugs Control Act, 2033.

According to experts, it is not so easy to legalize marijuana immediately. According to former DIG Hemant Malla Thakuri, who has investigated the issue of narcotics for a long time, Nepal is a fertile ground for the cultivation of cannabis, but it is not easy to import and export the banned substance.

“Cannabis is not easily exported from Nepal. There is no market in Nepal. Almost all countries are cultivating cannabis for medicinal purposes. Where will the products of Nepal be sold? It’s mentioned in the budget without market research analysis. A bill was introduced in the past, all this is happening illogically,” said former DIG Malla. But former MP Sher Bahadur Tammang has been saying that the country can get financial benefits from marijuana cultivation and the living standards of the people can be uplifted.

“This thing was discovered by our ancestors after research. Marijuana can be used for the benefit of the global human community. Many things in Nepal’s natural environment, including marijuana, can be used for the benefit of the global community,” said MP Tamang, “We have discovered many things based on our own knowledge. Among them, we are now talking about marijuana. Let’s regulate and manage marijuana cultivation. By doing this, the economic prosperity of the Nepalis people and the nation can be achieved. That is why we are embarking on this campaign.”

He said that he had studied and analyzed its production, its impact, the economic prosperity and other benefits to the country.

“These issues have been raised considering the international market demand for the quality of Nepal’s marijuana,” he said. It was once banned by international law as a narcotic drug. MP Tammang also claimed that marijuana is a medicinal herb. Now, many countries in the world are legalizing it. Out of 50, about 40 of the US states that led the way to ban it internationally have now legalized it and started making money from commercial cultivation.

Cannabis was secretly cultivated in some hill districts and central terai areas of Nepal. Marijuana smugglers used to pay farmers to cultivate. It was also cultivated in the hills of mid-western Nepal such as Rolpa, Rukum and Salyan.

Districts around Kathmandu such as Dhading and Makwanpur have gained popularity for centers of cannabis. Marijuana was also cultivated on the outskirts of Lalitpur and Kathmandu. The hashish produced in the mid-western hills of Nepal is considered to be of high quality in the international market.

Drug smugglers from Nepal had started making quilts and sending marijuana powder inside it, which led to increased surveillance by the security agencies. Marijuana was also cultivated in Bara, Parsa and Rautahat of Madhesh Province.

Although marijuana was cultivated secretly throughout the Panchayat period, its destruction increased with the rise of the multi-party system in Nepal. At present, since cannabis can be planted or cultivated in courtyards, fields, and forests, it has potential to change the economic standard of the Nepalis, so there is a demand that it should be regulated, monitored and cultivated.

While the debate on legalizing marijuana cultivation is underway in Nepal, the sale and distribution of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes has been opened in many countries including Canada, the Netherlands, and Thailand. Marijuana has been banned in Canada since 1923. In 2001, marijuana was legalized for medicinal purposes. Now, marijuana distribution centers will be established in provinces and municipalities, and a family will be allowed to plant up to four marijuana plants in Canada.

Certain states in the US allow cancer patients to use marijuana for pain relief. Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Jamaica, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Luxembourg have also legalized marijuana consumption. Marijuana for medicinal purposes is open in Israel, Argentina, Panama, Mexico, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The UK has also started discussion to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis.

With the beginning of the ‘hippy’ period in Nepal in the 1960s, when Westerners started coming to Kathmandu to consume marijuana, marijuana was openly sold in the streets of Kathmandu. Later, Nepal imposed a ban under the pressure of the US, saying that cannabis declined the quality of life. At that time, about 50 places were selling marijuana in Nepal. Until 2032, ayurvedic pharmacy used to make many medicines from cannabis, but they halted it after the government banned marijuana. Research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) proved that cannabis is 98% medicinal plants, so it was listed as a medicinal plant.

In Nepal, marijuana is seen by the police as a security challenge. The Narcotics Control Bureau of Nepal Police has been destroying and seizing plantation of marijuana on thousands of bighas and ropanis of land every year. This has also raised the question of how much commercial cultivation is possible in Nepal.

Former DIG Hemant Malla, who was the Chief of the Drug Law Enforcement Unit of Nepal Police (currently Narcotics Control Bureau), claims that the main objective behind the debate to legalize marijuana was the desire to earn money by exporting it, but the issue of market management was not prioritized.

According to him, in the countries where marijuana has been legalized, due to a strict legal system to regulate and control it and effective state mechanisms to implement the law, the entry of smugglers is prohibited. But former DIG Malla argues that it will not be possible until there is an effective regulation and state mechanism to prevent smuggling cannabis from Nepal. He says that until there is a strong state apparatus, it will be like inviting international smugglers. According to him, marijuana is still being smuggled in large amounts from Nepal.

– Republica

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