In 1976, after American youth started flocking to Nepal by the thousands attracted by cheap and legal pot, Nepal was forced by the US government to ban the use and sale of marijuana.
This threw thousands of farmers out of work, and made impoverished western Nepal even poorer. Today, while US states are legalising marijuana it still remains banned in Nepal.
Ravi Pradhan is a Nepali consultant who has been advising the Cambodian government on legalising marijuana. He says it is absurd that the US government still classifies marijuana as a narcotic drug when experts agree on its medicinal properties and therapeutic effects. “For Nepali farmers it can be a green gold,” Pradhan told a recent conference in Kathmandu on legalising marijuana.
Nepal’s Narcotics Drugs Control Act allows the use of the wildly grown cannabis plant, but it is vague and confusing, and its enforcement even more arbitrary. Activists are now pushing for legalisation of hemp cultivation so that plants can be used to make fabric, and – that battle won – they say want to shift their focus to legalising ganja for medical use and even recreational consumption.
The activists’ approach is to clearly show the difference between hemp and marijuana. Although they are both derived from the cannabis plant, their morphology, properties and uses are different.
Marijuana is a variety of cannabis that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp, on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive variety of the cannabis plant. Because the leaves look like marijuana, however, most people cannot tell the difference.
Sales of hemp products worldwide are expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022, with China being the world’s largest exporter. Hemp production in Nepal is not banned, but is limited. For example, businesses can only use wild plants.
Although marijuana is classified as a narcotic drug, the oil is used traditionally as a muscle relaxant, the leaves are made into chutney, and it is an active ingredient in many ayurvedic products.
Pawan Joshi produces hemp oil called Dava, which contains Omega 3 and 6. He says: “It is totally legal to produce the hemp oil as the hemp seeds are legal and the oil doesn’t get you high. We now need across-the-board legalisation of hemp.”