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PIL in Bombay HC to decriminalise cannabis goes up in smoke

PIL in Bombay HC to decriminalise cannabis goes up in smoke

Aditya AK

The Bombay High Court last week dismissed a PIL seeking to decriminalise the use of cannabis. In the PIL, advocate Aditya Barthakur has sought to declare provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act relating to cannabis as unjust and ultra vires the Constitution.

However, a bench of Justices VM Kanade and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi was not inclined to grant Barthakur the relief sought in the PIL.

The order reads,

“We are afraid that this Court while exercising its writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India cannot grant the reliefs…Apart from that, the Petitioner has produced certain technical data regarding useful effects of Ganja etc. We are afraid that we are not experts in the field and the Petitioner can raise this issue in the Parliament…”

Though disappointed, Barthakur believes that the judges giving him a patient hearing itself amounted to a small victory.

Speaking to Bar & Bench, he said,

“I would really like to thank Justice Kanade, because even though he dismissed the PIL, he suggested that I present a private member Bill in Parliament. So, it is a victory of sorts.”

Under the NDPS Act, cannabis is lumped together with opium and other notorious company, sans any distinction. The Act defines “narcotic drug” as follows:

“Narcotic drug means coca leaf, cannabis (hemp), opium, poppy straw and includes all manufactured goods.”

Barthakur says that he filed the PIL to question the inclusion of cannabis in the NDPS Act without any scientific, medical or logical reasons, especially since the maximum punishment for possession and distribution of cannabis under the Act is 20 years. In his PIL, he has mentioned various studies pointing out the palliative effects of cannabis, particularly for terminally ill patients.

Another reason which prompted him to approach the high court was that the government did not afford him an adequate reply to an RTI he filed seeking scientific reasons as to how consumption of cannabis was harmful. He was made to jump through hoops as one government department referred the question to another until the National Institute of Nutrition chose to answer it. Much to the advocate’s consternation, the reply was an irrelevant copy-pasted note from the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of New Jersey.

This incident led him to believe that the state does not necessarily have the citizens’ best interests at heart. He says,

“If the state is so worried about the health of its citizens, then why not ban alcohol and even vehicles for causing so many deaths?”

Image taken from here.

Read the PIL: