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The Cannabis Industry: India’s Untouched Gold Mine

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The global legal marijuana market is expected to reach USD 146.4 billion by the end of 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. Usually a topic of debate, due to its medical benefits, cannabis also has a huge potential to boost India’s economy and create millions of jobs. As a nation, we have enormous learning about its utilisation and good climatic conditions for its production. Legalising cannabis would pave the way for India to be a key player in the industry and carve a niche for ourselves as pioneers of cannabis-based products.

Image source: Tom Maisey/Flickr.

In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, introduced the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act which ensured complete prohibition on sale and purchase of Ganja (bud) and Charas (resin) in India. However, the drug had already been illegal in the country for over two decades because the Indian government had signed the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty in 1961. Many blamed the PM for succumbing to America’s pressure which began its war on drugs in 1971, long before India.

Although India’s ‘war on drugs’ story is, I think, not as heartbreaking as the USA’s, where a particular community has paid a hefty price over the decades just for the possession and consumption of a plant. The prohibition meant the rise of drug mafias and cartels, and a huge quantity of marijuana was smuggled in across borders to meet the demand. A lack of supply and growing demand meant the quality of weed was compromised for quick bucks. From boot polish to other cheap psychoactive drugs, peddlers added it all to the drugs.

A man smokes cannabis through a chillum. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Instead of regulating its supply, like an economic commodity, we brushed aside the topic from the public sphere, resulting in the creation of a taboo around it. Fast forward to today, social awareness campaigns like the Great Legalisation Movement have been educating masses about the benefits of Marijuana and Hemp. Support from Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, BJP MP Maneka Gandhi, and BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy for medical marijuana legalisation has garnered wide attention.

Regulation allows cannabis buyers to know what they’re consuming and moderate their intake, in the same way that a drinker can distinguish and choose between a whiskey and a beer. Imposing a tax on cannabis sales can create revenue that can be spent on educating people about the risks of cannabis use, as we already do with public service information on alcohol and tobacco,” writes Shashi Tharoor, in The Print.

In October last year, Canada took the historic decision of legalising recreational marijuana after 95 years of prohibition. The total cannabis market in Canada, including medical, illegal, and legal recreational products, is expected to generate up to $7.17 billion in sales in 2019 — up to $4.34 billion of which will come from the legal recreational market. According to the Grand View report, the U.S. legal marijuana market size was estimated at USD 7.06 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 24.9% from 2017 to 2025.

Cannabis-centric start-ups and products have already entered the Indian market. These early birds are the Bombay Hemp Company, incorporated in 2013; it raised about $1m from a group of investors including the likes of Ratan Tata.

Be Hemp, a Bangalore-based company, promotes the use of edible hemp seeds and protein for a healthier lifestyle. Hemp Cann, a Bhubaneswar-based start-up, imports hemp products from countries that have legalised hemp.

An unregulated criminal market and a growing number of youngsters using marijuana can be a harmful duo for a progressive society. Therefore, there is a need for an open discussion regarding cannabis. It’s time for the government to legalise India’s sacred plant for medical research purposes in the first phase. Then, create a supply chain to regulate the flow of cannabis across the country in the second phase. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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