On the 6th of August, 2016 a consignment of around 850 kilograms of Marijuana or kynja in the local lingo was confiscated by the authorities from some truckers along the Shillong By-Pass much to the disappointment of connoisseurs in Guwahati to where it was apparently bound and to the glee of the self claimed moral authorities who run the local print media.
To the uninitiated Marijuana is a preparation of the Cannabis plant that is smoked or added to food like cakes or made into a milkshake drink called Bhang. It contains a psychoactive substance called THC which gives the user an altered state of mind and can result in feelings of euphoria and joy otherwise known as a high. The plant has been used by ancient societies for ages; its use can be traced back to the 3rd Millennium BCE. It was even mentioned in the Rig Veda for the preparation of a celebratory drink called Soma and has formed an important part of Indian culture for ages.
Studies have found that despite marijuana having some effects, it is much safer to use than alcohol or tobacco. A study published in 2015 titled “Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach” by Dirk W. Lachenmeier and Jürgen Rehm found that Marijuana is 114 times safer than alcohol. To put that in perspective you are more likely to die from junk food than marijuana use. Despite its relative low risk, it is still classified as an illicit drug in most countries of the world. Even in India where it was a part of India culture since times immemorial it is now an illegal substance since the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) 1985. How did this come about? All of it can be traced back to 1920’s USA, where alcohol prohibition, led by self righteous concerned citizens began a crusade to stop people from having fun. This resulted in wide scale use of narcotics, especially marijuana. Despite years of it being grown as hemp, it was never widely used in the US but its use as a narcotic became widespread especially among the non-white and poor population. The Great Depression emerged at this time, resulting in a job shortages leading to tensions between Hispanic immigrants and white Americans. Marijuana began to be associated with Hispanic immigrants and was used to create harmful criminal stereotypes. News papers with racist and xenophobic articles attacked marijuana use despite lack of evidence of any serious harm. Numerous propaganda films like “Reefer Madness” demonized the marijuana. Self Righteous Concerned citizens, having failed spectacularly at Prohibition of alcohol at this time as it attacked mainstream white Americans saw an opportunity to sensationalize marijuana use and demonize minority groups and catapult themselves into the minds of people as the gatekeepers of morality. The rest as you say is history, marijuana use became illegal, despite numerous scientific studies and even despite an investigation by a United States Senate committee led by imminent politician LaGuardia which found marijuana harmless.
It was not enough for the US to stop marijuana use in their own country but they also began forcing other countries to criminalize it in theirs. The Christian churches of many denominations too helped in criminalizing people having fun outside of Church, in many third world nations. Powerful lobbies were pumped with money to carry out their agendas. The 1961 “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs” was the first ever international treaty to have clubbed cannabis (or marijuana) with hard drugs and imposed a blanket ban on their production and supply except for medicinal and research purposes. This began the ‘War on Drugs’, which was basically the use of force and violence to solve social problems, resulting in a never ending cycle of violence. The War on Drugs which aided the spending of billions of Dollars on a useless, never ending war creating employment and advanced careers for individuals whose services otherwise would not be required. The brunt of criminalization of drugs was felt by poor minority groups who saw their communities destroyed by mass incarceration for harmless offenses. This in turn created vast criminal networks that are responsible for war, murder and mayhem.
It was under pressure from the USA and other western countries that India criminalized marijuana use in 1985 despite protest from many in India. Organizations and people whose existence would not be needed if not for the criminalization of ganja emerged from this. Careers were made preventing people from having a good time. Thus as a result of a shortage of legal sources for Ganja people turned to the criminals and thus spurred the creation of criminal networks whose revenue could have easily filled the government coffers. This in turn created a never ending War on Drugs which profits no one but the people involved in its criminalization.
I like to imagine another life the arrested truckers would be transporting tons not kilos of ganja. They would be stopped only to pay taxes and tolls and ensure that the ganja met scientific safety standards. I would like to imagine that the money raised from the taxes and tolls would be used to build schools and public transport. That very few people with addiction problems went to clinics for treatment instead of jails. I’d like all this will be possible in the future, but only time will tell.
Therefore the local media and their sensationalist reports may find the recent capture of ganja from the truckers as some sort for of victory for morality, saving of souls, protection of society, saving the children, so on and so forth (Whatever excuse floats their boats), but for people who actually understand what is going on, who have read the literature and who actually listen to unbiased experts, we can do nothing but sigh and laugh at the insanity and maybe have a milkshake.