Access to medical marijuanaThe right to obtain medical cannabis pursuant to the law has been denied to the Nepali people.
The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 that categorised marijuana in the same group as heroin, cocaine and opium was the first international instrument that willfully ignored the medicinal use of marijuana and sought an international ban on its cultivation, use, sale and supply. Owing to US pressure, king Birendra revoked all licences pertaining to the cultivation, sale and purchase of marijuana in Nepal in 1973. However, at that time, but it was still legal to possess and use cannabis.
Two notable exceptions
The Narcotic Drug (Control) Act of 1976 went on to criminalise the sale, cultivation and consumption of cannabis in Nepal; but two notable exceptions were made: One, the government may frame rules regulating the production of hashish from wild cannabis plants growing in the western hilly region of Nepal and the collection, storage, sale and purchase of such hashish for a specified period. Two, purchase and consumption of cannabis can be made by any person in the recommended dose from any licensed shop on the recommendation of any recognised medical practitioner for the purpose of medical treatment. But both these provisions are currently ineffective due to lack of necessary rules. They need to be scrutinised if the Nepali people are to have access to quality cannabis that is safe for medical use.
Why should marijuana for medical use be limited to the production of hashish from cannabis growing wild in the western hilly region of Nepal? The complexity of the cannabis plant can be understood only by recognising the fact that it contains about 400 chemical entities with over 60 cannabinoid compounds. Among the major therapeutic compounds, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CDB (cannabidiol) have been known to be effective for different medical uses depending on the ailment.
At the very outset, the law needs to recognise that various strains of cannabis need to be grown to target for necessary concentrations of particular chemical compounds, to develop effective medicines for specific ailments. Mere harvesting of hashish from a specific geographical region of Nepal is not the answer. Growing of specific strains in controlled environments is critical if effective medication is to be derived from cannabis. This is the reason why producers in the Western nations grow varieties of cannabis depending on the needs of the patient and the specific ailment in question. The current exceptions do not pave the way for strain-specific cultivation of cannabis in Nepal.
Although a patient is permitted by law to obtain and consume medical marijuana, the government has yet to form any rules and regulations pertaining to its licensing. The concomitant right to access medical cannabis pursuant to the law has been denied to the Nepali people. The provision is yet to see the light of day and is currently redundant.
Lack of access to regulated and safe avenues for securing medical cannabis has only fostered an illicit trade, and organised criminal organisations have been the sole beneficiary of the government’s failure to regulate the cannabis market. Licensing of cannabis production and sale will go on to ensure that the medical marijuana produced is of good quality and safe for human consumption. Apart from this, the regulation of supply and licensing will contribute to the state coffers via taxation. After the regulation of cannabis sale through licensing and taxation in 1962, the government of Nepal was able to collect over Rs100,000 in revenue—a decent amount back then.
Efficacy of cannabis
Global acceptance of the medical benefits of marijuana is beyond debate. The efficacy of cannabis as a medicine for a wide array of ailments has been documented from Vedic times to modern-day research in the field of medicine. That the politics behind the criminalisation of cannabis by foreign powers is contrary to the cultural and religious practices of Nepal is no secret. The history of forced criminalisation of marijuana, and the apathy of the Nepali governments to reverse the neo-colonial politics over criminalisation is an utter disgrace. The inadequacies and redundancies of the current Nepali legal regime vis-à-vis access to cannabis are glaring. All that is lacking is the political will to reverse past international coercion and defy continued neo-colonial oppression on the subject of access to medical cannabis.
For the current government, which is high on rhetoric pertaining to international interference and issues of national sovereignty, the issue of ensuring safe access to medical marijuana to its citizens should not be a challenging one. Time has presented the current government an opportunity to undo past injustices forced upon the people of Nepal, and history shall stand as a testament to the government’s efforts to provide safe and quality access to medical cannabis. Cannabis has been growing in our lands from time immemorial, and it will continue to do so despite whoever is in power. The only question is whether the nation can capitalise on it.
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