Marijuana: Magic plant or menacing drug, legal or illegal? It's a 'highly' complex issue

Written By: Bharat Sharma WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: Jul 19, 2021, 06:27 PM(IST)

Marijuana: Magic plant or menacing drug? Photograph:( AFP )

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For some, marijuana signifies peace, magic and nature-based therapy. On the other hand, many authorities have good reason to categorise it as a drug. Is the magic plant a menace?

Some refer to it as magic, while others are more likely to call it a menace, but marijuana has remained a topic of political and social contention for decades now. Its supporters claim that the plant’s classification as a drug is misleading, while law enforcement agencies continue to perceive it as a “gateway drug”.

In the midst of this debate about its consumption, a lot of the plant’s benefits and drawbacks are buried. Marijuana is known by an array of terms that vary from culture to culture. Pot, weed, greens, ganja, Mary Jane, grass are among many unofficial designations given to the plant. Most people consume it by rolling the dried plant into a cigarette and smoking it, which causes a “high”.

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What's with marijuana?

Smoking isn’t the only way to consume the plant. In countries that have legalised it, marijuana is now consumed in food items such as brownies and chocolates, effectively taking away the serious dangers associated with smoking, including lung cancer. For those who fixate on the habit of smoking, vaping alternatives have flooded the markets.

The intoxicating agent in marijuana is known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. The plant can hold up to 500 other chemicals which include over 100 compounds that share their chemical make-up with THC and are known as “cannabinoids”. 

Where do countries stand on marijuana?

Recently, Mexico moved forward with the pilot step to legalising marijuana – making the country the largest market for pot. Over the last decade, many countries have made radical changes to legalise marijuana. Even then, a lot of misinformation – both positive and negative, continues to plague the limited knowledge about the “drug”. In Mexico, the legalisation could help with not only regulation of the plant and its derivatives but could also facilitate in limiting the control drug cartels currently hold over the growth and selling of marijuana.

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In the neighbouring United States, the situation is extremely complex. While many states have relaxed marijuana penalties, others continue to view it along the same lines as lethal drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, and crack – which are known to put people’s lives in dangers. Marijuana, on the other hand, has recorded zero deaths from its use. In the US, majority of the penalties associated with pot use are witnessed among Black and Brown communities, something acknowledged by US President Joe Biden, who has also shown interest in a sweeping national decriminalisation bill. But many within the country are now seeking long-term reforms instead of simple legalisations, which could help those who were imprisoned under anti-marijuana laws.

Panic is attributed as the worst-case scenario in terms of overconsumption of marijuana, but it has never been recorded to have caused serious harm to a person’s health. An overdose of marijuana is scientifically not possible, which has compelled many to back recent calls for its decriminalisation. Now, many countries allow medical use of marijuana while prohibiting recreational use.

According to the United Nations 1961 treaty called “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs”, pot is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, implying it is an addictive drug with serious risks of abuse.

Where is marijuana legal?

A handful of countries where recreational use of marijuana is permitted are Canada, Georgia, South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, along with 18 US states and the Australian Capital Territory.

In the Netherlands, the usage of marijuana is allowed in licensed coffee shops that have become the face of country’s tourism. But in the absence of any legal regulations, it’ll always be unclear where the dried plant is sourced from. Essentially, even in countries that allow recreational usage but do not permit growth, the sources still remain largely illegal due to which no quality control can be enforced. For long, activists have asked for marijuana to be marketed and regulated like alcohol, which they also claim is way more dangerous than pot.

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What's India's take on cannabis?

In India, the use of marijuana is deeply embedded in culture. “Bhaang”, a drink made from marijuana is a yearly favourite when the festival of Holi kicks in even though recreational usage of pot remains illegal. Another form of consumption is through “resins” or “charas” wherein the plant is rubbed until it resembles a black sticky gum-like substance. 

India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, which was passed in 1985 allows the consumption of “bhaang” for it is whipped up using leaves instead of the flowery tops.

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A lot of countries are now attempting to scientifically understand the long-term effects of marijuana use. Some studies claim it can lead to higher risks of dementia, while others claim that it’s highly effective in regulation of anxiety. In many cases, cannabis has been able to neutralise cancer cells. Even then, not enough expansive data is available to reach concrete conclusions. But as countries continue to embrace the plant, more details about marijuana’s long-term benefits and risks will come to light.

Until then, puff puff pass (or not)!

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