Drugs - what is illegal under NDPS Act, what is not

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According to the WHO, 'cannabis' is a generic term used to denote the several psychoactive preparations of the plant Cannabis sativa. Seeds and leaves of the plant — used to make bhang, for example — are outside the ambit of the NDPS Act


How does the NDPS Act define cannabis?

  • According to the NDPS Act “cannabis plant” means any plant of the genus cannabis. The legislation that was enacted in 1985 succeeded the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930. It was introduced as lawmakers felt that the older legislation that entailed a maximum punishment of up to four years was not strict enough to check drug trafficking.
  • Under section 2 (iii), the Act defines cannabis (hemp). The sub-sections refer to parts of the plant that come under the purview of the Act.
  • ‘Charas’ is the separated resin extracted from the cannabis plant. The NDPS Act covers separated raisin, in whatever form, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant and also includes concentrated preparation and resin known as hashish oil or liquid hashish.
  • According to a 2018 WHO report by the Secretariat of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), “The resin can resemble a resinous secretion of the plant, which is produced in the glandular trichomes, but also occurs as finer plant material, which appears as loose or pressed sticky powder, depending on the method of production.” Charas is also commonly called ‘hash’.
  • Section 2(iii)(b) of the NDPS Act defines ‘ganja’ as the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant but it clearly excludes the seeds and leaves, when not accompanied by the tops, by whatever name they may be known or designated. Street names for the drug include ‘weed’ and ‘marijuana’.
  • The Act also illegalises any mixture with or without any neutral material, of any of the two forms of cannabis – charas and ganja — or any drink prepared from it.


Are substances made from cannabis leaves also illegal under the NDPS Act?

  • No. As defined in the Act, the legislature left seeds and leaves of the cannabis plant out of the ambit of the NDPS Act.
  • The serrated leaves of the plant have negligible THC content. THC is the psychoactive or intoxicating compound present in the cannabis plant that is mainly responsible for giving consumers the ‘high’. ‘Bhang’, which is commonly consumed during festivals like Holi, is a paste made out of the leaves of the cannabis plant, and is hence not outlawed.
  • Similarly, CBD oil — an acronym for cannabidiol derived from the cannabis plant — that surfaced in the NCB’s investigation of WhatsApp chats between Sushant Singh Rajput’s talent manager Jaya Saha and Rhea Chakraborty, Saha’s lawyer said, would not come under the NDPS Act.


Why is the use of CBD oil still contentious in India?

  • The NDPS Act does not permit the recreational use of cannabis in India. While CBD oil manufactured with a license under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 can be legally used, it is not very common. Some Indian websites do sell CBD oil with a prescription and many even facilitate it.


Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985

  • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act is an Act of the Parliament of India that prohibits a person to produce/manufacture/cultivate, possess, sell, purchase, transport, store, and/or consume any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance.
  • As per the NDPS Act, narcotic drugs include coca leaf, cannabis (hemp), opium and poppy straw.
  • Psychotropic substance means any natural or synthetic material or any salt or preparation covered under the 1971 convention on Psychotropic substances.
  • The following conventions various forms of control to limit the use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances
    • The UN Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs 1961
    • The Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971
    • The Convention on Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988
  • India is a signatory to all these three.
  • Since then act was amended thrice (1988, 2001 and 2014).
  • NDPS Act has made stringent provisions for the control and regulation of operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
  • As per the NDPS Act, the minimum sentence for dealing with drugs is 10 years rigorous imprisonment coupled with a fine of Rs. 1 lakh.
  • No bail is granted for those persons booked under this act.
  • In addition, no relief can be obtained by the drug convicts through suspension, remission and commutation of sentences passed.
  • Even worse, NDPS Act prescribes capital punishment for repeat offenders of drug trafficking even though the offence cannot be called as a heinous crime.
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