The Case for Cannabis Legalization

As far as its medical use is concerned, cannabis is legalized in about 45 countries around the world, including many states and territories in the United States.

The word “cannabis” refers to all products derived from the plant Cannabis sativa L, which is native to central and south Asia. Marijuana, also known as ganja in Nepal, India, and some other Asian countries, is a product from the plant that contains large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects on a person’s mental state. Hashish (charas) another product from the plant, is made by compressing and processing some of its parts, especially the flowering buds. Cannabis sativa contains over 500 chemicals and more than 80 different naturally occurring compounds called cannabinoids, the two most well-known being THC and cannabidiol (CBD).

As far as its legality is concerned (regarding medicinal and recreational uses), different laws apply in different countries in terms of possession, distribution, and cultivation, as well as how it can be consumed and what medical conditions it can be used for. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug under UN’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty. While signatories can allow it for medical use, it is to be considered as an addictive drug with a serious risk of abuse.

Research suggests that cannabis may be of benefit in the treatment of some conditions like chronic pain, alcoholism and drug addiction (a 2021 study published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review suggested that cannabis may help people fight alcohol or opioid dependencies), depression, post-traumatic disorder, and social anxiety (the same study also found some evidence supporting the use of cannabis to relieve depression and post-traumatic disorder symptoms and relieve social anxiety), cancer (evidence suggests that oral CBDs are effective against chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and some studies suggest that they may either slow the growth of or kill some types of cancer), multiple sclerosis (short-term use of oral CBDs may improve symptoms of spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients, although only modestly), epilepsy (in June 2018, based on clinical trials, the US FDA approved Epidiolex, a drug containing CBD, to treat two rare, severe, and specific types of epilepsy).

While most countries prohibit it for recreational use, many have adopted a policy to make simple possession a non-criminal offense. However, there are some countries, particularly Asian and Middle Eastern countries, which have much more severe penalties, whereby possession of even small amounts can land one in jail for several years. Cannabis is legal for recreational use in Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, Georgia, Malta, South Africa, and in many states and territories of the United States, as well as in the Australian Capital Territory of Australia, with commercial sale legalized in Canada, Uruguay, and some US jurisdictions. In the Netherlands, marijuana is available in coffee shops.
As far as its medical use is concerned, cannabis is legalized in about 45 countries around the world, including many states and territories in the United States. Some countries allow only the use of certain cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals, such as Sativex, Marinol, and Epidiolex. Till date, the US FDA has approved one cannabis-derived drug product, Epidiolex (cannabidiol), and three synthetic cannabis-related drug products, namely, Marinol (dronabinol), Syndros (dronabinol), and Cesamet (nabilone).

Epidiolex, which contains a purified form of CBD, is approved for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients two years of age and older. Marinol and Syndros are indicated for nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, and for anorexia associated with weight loss in AIDS patients. Their active ingredient, dronabinol, is a synthetic delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cesamet’s synthetically derived active ingredient nabilone also has a chemical structure similar to THC, and is indicated for nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy.

In Nepal, cannabis has been used for ages in Ayurveda medicine, as an intoxicant, and as a sacred offering to Lord Shiva. In the 1960s, the lure of cannabis brought in hordes of foreign backpackers, with Kathmandu becoming an important destination of the famous Hippie Trail. However, in 1973, as a result of US pressure, all licenses to cultivate and sell cannabis were cancelled by the government, and on September 22, 1976, the Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act, 2033 (1976) was enacted, prohibiting the cultivation, production, preparation, purchase, sale, distribution, export or import, trafficking, storing, or consumption of cannabis.

However, looking at the growing number of countries legalizing cannabis use (including ironically, the United States) in recent times, either for recreational or medical use, some 50 Nepali parliamentarians filed a motion in parliament in January 2020 calling for the legalization of cannabis. This was followed by the introduction of another legalization bill in 2021, which was supported by the then health minister.

Most recently, on June 9, 2022, Thailand made it legal to cultivate and possess marijuana for medical use, thus becoming the first Asian nation to decriminalize marijuana. The country’s public health minister declared that, if used wisely, cannabis could be “like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.” The government, which expects to boost the economy by decriminalizing marijuana, is now in the process of distributing one million cannabis seedlings to those wishing to cultivate the fabled plant.

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