The recent interview to the congressman Sher Bahadur Tamang in the Nepali television has brought cannabis regulation in the country to the forefront . The politician, who belongs to the Marxist-Maoist Prachanda Path of Nepal, explained the reasons why cannabis could go back to normalcy, highlighting its economic potential in agriculture, its medicinal benefits and the cultural heritage linking the country and the plant.
Cannabis was banned in Nepal during the 70s decade, due to the US pressure on international legislations under the banner of the “war against drugs”.
The authorities usually make exceptions in the legislation, sometimes taking in consideration the culture of many of the religions forming the state, like the cult of Shiva by sadhus, in whose festival of Maha Shivaratri on March 11 cannabis is consumed in open air under no restrictions.
Nevertheless, the prohibition on growing and selling led to institutional corruption and the proliferation of mafias, who turned the country into an export source of international hashish, owing also to its hand-pressed resin tradition, called charas.
Sher Bahadur Tamang appeared in the prime-time show “Saglo Samaj” last January, where he answered the questions of interviewer Kanak Mani. “After receiving assessment from the research team, we presented this bill in the parliament. We believe this is a way to relieve poverty in rural areas. It also comes in a moment when there is an international push towards legalising not only marijuana as medicine, but the use of the plant for many purposes, including recreation”, explained the politician. He stressed that a great number of people in Nepal consider that recreational use of cannabis is harmful and incorrect, and that those who do use it are relegated to a generic group of “drug addicts” as consequence of US policies. “A country that is now opening and regulating the market for that same cannabis”, claimed Tamang, even highlighting that the Nepali people had been tricked into going against its own millenary tradition.
“In a moment when the use of marijuana is becoming increasingly open and legal in the world context, this discourse is gaining momentum quickly here at home as well”, claimed Nahadur Tamang.
Nowadays, cultivation, selling and production for therapeutic use are all banned in Nepal. However, and despite the fines that can result from that, cannabis and charas can be found on the streets of Katmandu and other towns, for a small price and great quality.
With regards to the economic context, the former minister underscored the privileged climate of Nepal, where the plant has grown in the open throughout history, bringing down the costs of indoor cultivation or in greenhouse, adding the organic and natural growing factor. “Purple Haze, for instance, a very potent kind of marijuana, grows wildly in the Himalayan region belonging to Nepal. It is a valuable marijuana and could be one commercially important crop. The national economy will benefit from that. But changing the current law will not be enough. A regulatory board will be necessary to decide how much control local governments have over the growing, how much land will be assigned to farmers and how much they will be allowed to grow. Local governments could also obtain a certain percentage of the income obtained from the production”, Tamang analysed. He also declared that he believes that United Nations will legalise the plant and will even encourage the world to grow it, as “the large benefits are too important to ignore”.
Cultivation of cannabis in the Nepal region is lost in the mists of times. As we have mentioned, the sadhus, an important religious branch in the area, use cannabis in their sacraments to better communicate with their main deity, Shiva. The syncretism of the Nepali community also includes Buddhists. After all, the birthplace of Siddhārtha Gautama “Buddha” is located inside their territory, in the town of Lumbini.
The cannabis in this area, although it was not a novelty, was identified and catalogued by European explorers around the XIX century, and it was in the XX century’s 60s decade that it lived its first expansion. Travellers, arrived from all the globe attracted by the hippy culture and cannabis, populated the streets of the cities in search of spiritual enlightenment.
One of the most popular selling points was the “Freak Street”, where the legal marijuana shops, working under license, were abundant. Once the demand rose, the crops and legal production of cannabis spread, bringing along huge profits for the local population. In 1972, Nepal had turned into one of the main hashish producers in the world. It all changed the following year, when the government, under pressure from the international community and the USA, cancelled all licenses and deported the main cannabis traders to India.
This manoeuvre is considered to have caused losses up to $100.000 million to the Nepali people, already deprived due to natural hazards and the bloody civil war that went on until democracy arrived, in 1991, and a republic was instated in place of the monarchy, in 2005.
Nepal has been fighting for decades to adapt to the times. In the words of travellers and writers Carlos Arnal and Miguel Portillo, from their 1977 book Travel to Eden?, “Nepal is changing… meanwhile, its mountains remain there”.