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Is Marijuana Legal in India?

India flag with a hand holding a marijuana infront of it

India’s marijuana laws are complicated and vary depending on the region.

Different states have individual regulations that govern the consumption, sale, possession, or purchase of marijuana, and some have legalized the cultivation of hemp crops and the sale of cannabis-infused medicines.

The central law governing cannabis’s legality in India is the country’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, or NDPS Act, of 1985, which bans the sale and use of cannabis but permits the use of leaves and seeds.

Generally speaking, cannabis possession in India is a criminal offense punishable by law. But similarly to the United States, the exact rules vary in different Indian states.

Medical Marijuana Laws in India

India’s relationship with cannabis stretches back thousands of years, where the plant grows in the wild in the north of India and in nearby countries like Nepal.

Historically, the country used it in Hindu religious ceremonies, typically as offerings to Lord Shiva, as well as for recreational use, medicinal remedies, and industrial purposes.

The sacred plants are heavily integrated into Indian culture, and residents have given them several names and purposes over their history, including charas, bhang, and ganja.

India’s history with cannabis became more complicated after British colonizers attempted to criminalize the plant.

The defining blow was the U.N.’s international Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, which defined cannabis as a hard drug.

The Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act was also passed in 1961, which restricted people from producing or consuming bhang — a traditional cannabis-based drink — except during the Hindu festival of Holi. Otherwise, the beverage became illegal.

Nearly 25 years later, in 1985, India passed the NDPS Act to prohibit the use of cannabis flowers and separated resin but allow for the use of its leaves and seeds.

The law also did not explicitly ban agricultural and commercial cultivation of hemp plants, which is still legal in India — though governed by individual states’ rules.

It also encouraged different states to actively set regulations to set up rules governing the cannabis plant, its medicinal use, production, and research.

In 2015, calls for legalization started spreading in India, with groups like the Great Legalization Movement – India holding conferences nationwide to spread awareness of cannabis’s medical benefits.

In 2018, Uttarakhand became the first state to legalize the commercial cultivation of hemp. Madhya Pradesh legalized hemp cultivation the following year, and in February 2020, India’s first medical cannabis clinic opened in Bengaluru, selling infused tablets for medicinal purposes.

In 2020, the U.N. removed cannabis from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which has paved the way for future legalization in India.

The following year, the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, a state in northern India, said that their government was currently writing a policy to allow for the regulated cultivation and use of cannabis.

Finally, India’s Central Government reaffirmed in the Delhi High Court in 2022 that the medicinal use of cannabis is indeed legal in India.

The federal government further encouraged the State governments to manage all regulations on legalization, including cultivation, sale, and scientific research.

What to Know About About Medical Cannabis in India

You cannot access medical or recreational cannabis in India. Similarly, you cannot bring it into the country.

If you’re planning a visit to the area, it is recommended that you leave your cannabis (including CBD) at home, even if you have a medical marijuana card.

There Is No National Framework for Legal Medical Marijuana

The Central Indian government has no legal framework for medicinal marijuana.

Per federal Indian law, cannabis products crafted from the plant’s resin and flower are illegal throughout the country. Violating these federal laws can result in severe legal penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

Different States Have Different Regulations

People looking into marijuana use for medical purposes must research the laws in their home state to learn what qualifies a patient for medical use and how to obtain products legally.

Recreational Cannabis Is Illegal

No matter which state you reside in, cannabis for recreational purposes is forbidden.

The severity of the punishment depends on the amount in question: a small quantity can earn jail time of up to six months, whereas more significant amounts can result in up to 10 years in prison and hefty fines.

Can You Grow Cannabis in India?

Personal cultivation for recreational use is illegal in India. Different states have varying laws that pertain to cannabis cultivation, but a handful of regions have legalized the industrial production of hemp in commercial quantities.

Hemp is defined as cannabis plants with a tiny amount of THC, less than 0.3% per dry weight. Hemp cultivation is subject to strict regulations in these legalized states.

Farmers must obtain licenses and adhere to guidelines to ensure their plants do not exceed the legal THC limits.

The Bottom Line

India has handled cannabis similarly to the United States from a legal perspective, offloading the creation of regulatory frameworks to the States and empowering them to make their own decisions.

Overall, products with higher THC levels or created from the flower and resin are illegal, but some states allow for CBD products with less than 0.3% THC.