Is it Legal to Get High on Bhang in India?

Holi is a day when Indians cover friends, family and even strangers with colored powder and water. It is also traditionally celebrated with the consumption of cannabis-infused goodies.

For centuries bhang--which is a paste created by grinding cannabis leaves--has been mixed in milk, laddoos or pakoras as a special treat with a kick for Holi, the Hindu festival of color and spring.

Technically, the cultivation, sale, purchase, transportation and importation of cannabis is usually prohibited in India.

Does that mean everyone participating in the bhang revelry on Holi is breaking the law?

A close look at India's federal drug law reveals the huge loopholes that will allow millions to get high on bhang on Friday.

India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act from 1985 clearly lists cannabis as a narcotic drug.

It, however, only prohibits the consumption of certain parts and preparations from the cannabis plant, namely hashish resin created from the plant or its buds.

The law allows for the consumption of the leaves of the plant, the exact element used in bhang.

The right to celebrate with bhang has been repeatedly tested in Indian courts. In 2004, for instance, a local court in the northern state of Haryana, ruled that “bhang does not fall under the definition of cannabis” in the law. “Thus, its possession does not constitute an offense punishable under the law.”

Some states even license and tax bhang sales.

But the cultivation of cannabis is still illegal. So where is all the bhang coming from?

The answer is the second legal loophole. Growing marijuana is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but harvesting the leaves that grow by themselves in the wild is allowed.

“It’s a peculiar problem,” said Tripti Tandon, a Delhi-based lawyer. “There is really no mechanism to check the wild growth of the plant. That’s the grey area.”

So to steer clear of breaking the law, people need to buy bhang that is made from the wild marijuana leaves. Depending on the state, it may also have to come from a state-authorized dealer.

There are more rules that vary from state to state, such as, the maximum amount of bhang one person can carry and the minimum age someone has to be before they can buy it.

But don't worry. On Holi, authorities say, there is rarely a crackdown on bhang dealers or their customers.

“I have never seen a coordinated effort at the national level to check the consumption of bhang on Holi,” said Vijay Kalsi, India’s narcotics commissioner.

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