Ganja ban is elitist; it should go, says Tathagata Satpathy – Deeptiman Tiwary

Tathagata Satpathy

Deeptiman TiwaryBJD chief whip in Lok Sabha Tathagata Satpathy recently admitted in a social media chat that he smoked pot (ganja/marijuana) in his younger days. To the pleasantly surprised Net audience, the four-time MP from Dhenkanal in Odisha even showed the way to legally score the stuff in his own state. The comments have since gone viral, earning Satpathy many fans for his candid admission and frank opinion on what he says is an unfairly stigmatized subject. In this interview he explains his opposition to the “elitist” ban on cannabis consumption in India and how given an opportunity he would stand up for its repeal in Parliament. – Deeptiman Tiwary

Chillum BabaYou’ve admitted that you have smoked pot. Now, that’s a rare admission by an MP given that it’s a statutory offence to do so.

• I did it when I was young. I haven’t smoked pot for some time now. But I neither regret it nor have any remorse about it. I also don’t support the ban on cannabis consumption.

Why do you think cannabis consumption was criminalized? Was it wrong to do so and attach such stigma to its use?

• Intoxication, in various forms, has been part of societies across the world. Shiva had some kind of ras and Christ’s blood was wine. Since biblical times and even prior to that, including the Romans and South Americans, people have been using intoxicants. Whether it’s part of Indian culture, I don’t know. But it’s definitely a way of life in India. In Odisha (where cannabis consumption is not illegal), people smoking chillum is a common sight. It is not something you make note of just as you don’t notice someone drinking water or having tea. The only difference that I have experienced in life is whether you let an intoxicant overpower your life or you take it as a learning process, do something and then get out of it.

It has often been argued that it’s not the substance that makes you an addict….

• That’s correct. It’s not the substance but your character. People are addicted to sweets, salty food. It harms them as much.

Do you think in the late ’80s when it was banned, we overreacted to a scare created by the US?

• Yes, I agree.

Do you think it’s hypocritical of the Indian state to allow consumption of alcohol but not cannabis? It has been argued that alcohol is more harmful than cannabis.

• We are the US of the ’50s and the ’60s. We are wannabes. The thinking is that if you hold a wine glass people will consider you belong to the upper class. You roll a joint and people will call you charsi. It is an elitist bias. It was during Rajiv Gandhi‘s time that the Indian state was most elitist. A pilot married to a foreigner and forced into something he was not interested in. Indira Gandhi was not elitist in that manner. Cannabis suffered a ban because it was an intoxicant of the poor.

Should India revisit the ban?

• While it should, I don’t think it can. Unless there is some Act about medical us age of marijuana and then the civil society creates some kind of pressure to insert the word “recreational”. And then we can also demand a change in the NDPS Act.

If some day a debate comes up on this issue in Parliament, would you stand up for decriminalization of cannabis?

• Of course I will. I will seek the permission of my party president. I will try to convince him of what I think and why I think so. Whether he agrees or not I can’t predict. But if he is convinced, perhaps he will authorize me to officially support decriminalization of cannabis. After all, it is legal in our state.

Man SmokingTimes View

Since 1985, when the ill-conceived NDPS Act was enacted, this is the first time an Indian lawmaker has shown the courage of conviction to speak out against th law and ask for legalizing use of cannabis—the plant from which marijuana (ganja), hashish (charas) and bhang are derived. The NDPS Act had outlawed a way of life in India by bracketing ganja and charas with killer drugs like smack and heroin and prescribing a minimum 10-year jail term for the sale or possession of these drugs. Government shops that sold ganja and charas shut down and the poor man’s intoxicant was made illegal. Meantime, informal trade moved from these soft drugs to killer smack because while the punishment was the same, the profit margin for smack was 10 times higher than for ganja. And for the first time, we witnessed a drugs problem in India with the emergence of the desperate “smackiya”.

Several MPs knew what was happening, argued against the Act in private, but none spoke out against it. Some of it was because of American pressure (the US was losing patience with their pot-smoking flower children), but mostly because soft drugs like marijuana and hashish didn’t enjoy the respectability of alcohol with the upper classes. Since then, penalties for soft drugs have been made lesser than for hard drugs. But should there be a penalty at all on them? American research shows that marijuana is no more harmful to health than alcohol—in fact, some research suggests alcohol is worse. Several US states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana and a growing number are legalizing it for recreational purposes too. And to think that it was India where marijuana and hashish were used as recreational drugs for as long as anyone can remember. Our scriptures talk of Lord Shiva’s fondness for it.

Last year, the NDPS Act was amended to allow the medicinal use of narcotic drugs. However, we should go further and allow the use of soft drugs like marijuana and hashish for recreational use. That would usher in a rational approach towards intoxicants, and set right a historical wrong. – The Times of India, 29 March 2015

Ganja shop in Puri, Odisha

See also

2 Responses

  1. Cannabis in Manali, India

    In the Himalayas, entire villages survive on illegal marijuana production – Adam Glanzman – Time – 7 April 2015

    Nestled in the Himalayan foothills at an altitude of 10,000 ft. (3,000 m), entire villages and communities subsist on illegal marijuana production. These villages are far from any paved roads and are so remote that distances are measured in hours of walking.

    Across thousands of acres of public and private land, villagers grow cannabis which is then turned into a high-quality resin know as charas. “On the global market, charas is sold as a high quality hashish,” says Italian photographer Andrea de Franciscis, who has been documenting these communities for the past three years. “The farmers who produce the costly resin get very little in return and struggle to survive against always tougher legislation.”

    De Franciscis has chosen an anthropological angle to photograph these villagers, with the goal of producing a complete story that also focusses on culture and tradition. “Life is challenging in the mountain,“ he tells TIME. “Women work as much as men, and the feeling is that it’s rather a matriarchal society.”

    Cannabis has deep roots in Indian society dating back to as early as 2,000 BCE within the Hindu scriptures. However, since the drug was outlawed in India in 1985 there has been pressure on a national and global scale to curb the cannabis production in the Himalayan valley. But, says de Franciscis, this has only “led to an increase of the price [of charas] on the global market, and has actually worsened the situation of the villagers whom have no real alternative for their livelihood.”

    Adam Glanzman is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

    Cannabis plantation in the Himalayas


  2. The First Church of Cannabis was approved after Indiana’s religious freedom law was passed – Washington Post -Sarah Pulliam Bailey – 30 March 2015

    The First Church of Cannabis Inc. has been approved by Indiana’s secretary of state after the state’s religious freedom legislation became law last week.

    The church’s founder Bill Levin said he filed paperwork in direct response to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law last Thursday. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”

    Cannibis is listed as the church’s sacrament in its doctrine, Levin said, and he will set up a church hierarchy. The church will plan to grow hemp, he said, though it will not buy or sell marijuana.

    “If someone is smoking in our church, God bless them,” Levin said. “This is a church to show a proper way of life, a loving way to live life. We are called ‘cannataerians.’”

    Marijuana is currently illegal in Indiana for both medical and recreational use, so the church could test the application of the new law. RFRA prevents Indiana’s government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion if it can demonstrate that it is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.

    All eyes are on Indiana after Governor Mike Pence (R) signed a controversial religious freedom bill into law. The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey explains what exactly is in the law and why both sides are so vocal. (Pamela Kirkland/The Washington Post)
    Levin, who spoke to The Post over the phone, said the church has received $2,000 in donations and received more than 7,000 Facebook fans in the five days that it has existed. He hopes to build the first church or temple built of hempcrete, a building material similar to concrete that includes hemp.

    “We are progressing to get a building property to be our holy ground,” he said. “We’re going to set up counseling for heroin since we have a huge epidemic in this country. We’ll probably have Alcoholics Anonymous, too. I’m not going to allow alcohol on the premise.”

    Levin also wrote out the new “Diety Dozen,” a 10 commandments-like list with suggestions for better living.

    “The bibles of other religions are yesteryear about the drinking out of goat skins. That doesn’t relate to people with GPS in their hand and 7,000 tunes in that same hand,” he said. “The church is very simple. The first good book we’re going to ask parishioners to read and understand is ‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes.’”

    Levin, who owns a consulting and marketing company called Levin Consulting in Indianapolis, said he is not religious.

    “I’m very faith-driven, I’m very spiritual and I’m filled with love,” he said. “I find that most religions are misled into gross perversions of what they are meant to be. This path has led me to lead a religion that people in today’s world can relate to it. We don’t have any guilt doctrine built in. We don’t have any sin built in.”

    Once the church is established, members will be asked for individual donations of $4.20 a month, Levin said.

    Indiana attorney and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz wrote that Indiana legislators may have put the state in a position to acknowledge those who profess to smoke pot as a religious sacrament.

    “You see, if I would argue that under RFRA, as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scott-free,” he wrote. “Remember, under RFRA, the state has to articulate a compelling interest in preventing you from smoking pot. I argue they can’t.”

    The Church of Cannabis is just one test of many under Indiana’s new law, which has escalated to national prominence in the past week, raising questions about the future of religious freedom laws and gay rights.


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