Parliamentarian leads crusade to legalize cannabis in Nepal

Cannabis grows in the wild in the hilly parts of the Himalayan country, but its cultivation and use are illegal

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Kathmandu Durbar Square in Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu. Photo by Skouatroulio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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In Nepal, cannabis has long been revered as a component of Ayurvedic medicine and as an offering to the Hindu god Shiva.

On the other hand, it’s also basically a weed. Cannabis plants grow in the wild in the hilly parts of the Himalayan country. Its cultivation and use are illegal, though. Hashish and ganja shops once did brisk business. However, the Nepalese government shuttered them all in the 1970s under international pressure, mostly from the United States.

But now a movement to change the status of cannabis in Nepal is gaining traction. Last January, 48 members of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal filed a motion in Parliament calling for legalization. According to a Nikkei Asia article, the legislation “calls for decriminalizing the production, sale, and consumption of cannabis by nullifying the 1976 Narcotics Drugs Control Act. That law stipulates three years of jail and a fine of 25,000 Nepali rupees ($210) for anyone found growing marijuana. Similarly, anyone found trafficking in it faces a prison term of between two and 10 years, plus a fine of 1,000 rupees”.

A private legalization bill

Last March, MP Sher Bahadur Tamang registered his own private legalization bill in Nepal’s Parliament. In an interview with the TV magazine show Saglo Samaj (transcribed by the Nepali Times), Tamang said he registered his bill after research convinced him of the “great medicinal and economic value of cannabis”.

Tamang cited a number of other countries that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis for medical or recreational use. He also noted that the U.S. seems poised to pass its own federal decriminalization legislation.

Tamang said that geographically speaking, Nepal is uniquely positioned to become a global leader in cannabis production. “All of these countries need to cultivate the plants in controlled environments in massive greenhouses, which means the production costs are high,” he told Saglo Samaj. “Nepal, however, has the right climate and soil conditions for marijuana cultivation, which means our produce will be organic.

“Moreover, Purple Haze, a more potent type of marijuana which grows in the Himalayan region of Nepal, is extremely valuable and could be an important cash crop,” Tamang added.

Nepal voted to reclassify cannabis

As CannCentral reported last month, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs recently voted to reclassify cannabis. The vote moved cannabis out of a category reserved for the most dangerous drugs.

On December 2 of 2020, the CND reviewed a series of World Health Organization recommendations on cannabis and its derivatives. According to an article on the official UN news website, “the CND zeroed-in on the decision to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs—where it was listed alongside deadly, addictive opioids, including heroin.”

Nepal’s ambassador to Austria, Prakash Kumar Suvedi, cast one one of the 27 votes in favour of reclassification. (There were 25 against, and one abstention.) “The CND has opened the door to recognizing the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly-used but still largely illegal recreational drug,” the UN News article stated.

U.N. vote an important first step

As CannCentral pointed out at the time, this vote won’t affect individual countries’ drug policies. However, many view it as an important first step toward recognition of cannabis’s medical usefulness. 

Tamang is among them.

“I believe that the United Nations will make marijuana legal and even encourage the world to plant it widely within our lifetime,” he told Saglo Samaj. “The wide-ranging benefits are too important to ignore.”

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