Nepal: eradication continues as parliament mulls legalization

Posted on November 10th, 2020 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , .

South AsiaThe tradition of cannabis cultivation, hashish production and sacramental use goes back millennia in Nepal, and the country was among the last to sign up to the global prohibition regime. Now, a legalization effort is underway in parliament—even as eradication operations continue.

Eradication continues
A typically fruitless campaign to supress hashish production continues in Nepal, with eradication operations especially taregting the Terai—the lowland region in the south, on the Gangetic plain near the Indian border, which is the heartland of production. Last month, the Nepal Police force announced destruction of 31,435 cannabis plants in Belaka municipality of Udayapur district in the Terai. Police also boasted the destruction of 1,540 plants in other Terai villages over the course of the multi-day operation.

Police also said that cannabis cultivation was encroaching on the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in Belaka, which shelters Nepal's last remaining population of wild water buffalo. But there's a certain irony to invoking cannabis as an ecological threat.  

The Terai is also Nepal's most intensive region of rice and wheat production. Inevitably, cannabis cultivation falls to poorer farmers, who are pushed by the threat of eradication into marginal areas, on the edge of the agricultural frontier, where they have no choice but to eat into forests and natural areas.

Legalization bills pending 
This year has seen a bid for Nepal to return to legal cannabis cultivation. Back in January, a group of 45 lawmakers from the ruling Nepal Communist Party introduced a bill in the Federal Parliament's House of Representatives that would legalize cannabis cultivation, with an eye toward the international medical marijuana market.

The bill's lead sponsor is Birodh Khatiwada, who represents Makawanpur district, where the Terai meets the Himalayan foothills and a key cannabis cultivation area. "Marijuana has multiple uses," Khatiwada said upon introducing the bill. "It also helps earn foreign currencies and produce medicines," he added. 

In March, a second bill was introduced by Rep. Sher Bahadur Tamang, also of the Nepal Communist Party. This measure, dubbed the Cannabis Farming (Management) Act, seems to stand a better chance of passing. Critically, it accepts the European Union’s official limit of 0.2% THC for legal cannabis cultivation. So this measure is clearly about legalizing hemp—not "marijuana" or hashish.

Deep cultural roots 
It wasn't unitl 1973 that cannabis was outlawed in Nepal, with passage of Narcotics Drugs Control Act, bringing the country's legal code into conformity with the Single Convention Treaty. The very day after the bill's passage, the 19th century Singha Durbar palace that housed the parliament was destroyed by fire—probably in protest of the cannabis ban. (It has since been rebuilt.) 

The incident appeared to exemplify the deep cultural roots that cannabis has in Nepal.

As in India, sadhus, or wandering spiritual seekers, and devotees of Shiva have used hashish ceremonially for centuries. At the Maha Shivaratri, the Great Festival of Shiva, it is practically a duty for devotees of the god of destruction and regeneration to partake in bhang. Bhang lassis—that is, a yogurt drink spiked with roasted and pulverized cannabis bud—also flow freely at Holi, the spring festival which falls on the full moon after Maha Shivaratri, and also involves partiers throwing colored powder and paint at each other in the streets. The government is wise enough not to try to suppress millennia of cultural tradition. On both holidays, the streets of Kathmandu are filled with spiritually elevated revelers.

But it remains to be seen if Nepal—even under a communist government that claims to represent the interests of the oppressed—will give a dignified place in the country's economy for the hashish-producing peasants of the Terai, and make Nepal the first Asian nation to legalize cannabis.

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