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HIGH TIME

In India, the most important of the gods had known it throughout, that cannabis could not be all that bad for the soul if it made the body feel good. So, what took two of the states of the United States of America until a few days ago to decide had always been part of divine and popular wisdom in the subcontinent. So, the legal, the paralegal and the illegal went harmoniously hand in hand here, in a way that Americans, with their greater burdens of surveillance and punishment, often envy. But now the people of Colorado and Washington have shown the way to a more sensible and liberal attitude to marijuana (the ‘drug’ made out of certain parts of the cannabis plant) that many are hailing as one of the most significant indications of the social transformation brought about by the Obama regime. Marijuana is legal for medical purposes in many other states, but the legalizing of recreational use for those who are 21 and above is an important shift. In the US, the ‘drug war’ — going back to Richard Nixon — has never been only about health and safety. It has absorbed a whole range of prejudices and discriminations that has become symptomatic of the country’s internal conflicts regarding Blacks and Latinos, often identified with the poor and the criminal by society as well as the legal system. Most of the people incarcerated for breaking the drug laws happen to be from these ethnic groups. So, the tax revenues and the savings made by not having to punish offenders are going to be significant enough for more public money to be spent on educating young people, for instance, on being better informed consumers of marijuana.

Until the early Sixties, when a United Nations convention laid the basis for future worldwide legal prohibitions, India had been on the liberal side of outright prohibition, unlike the US. But its ancient traditions of cannabis-use lost out, officially, to the legal and economic force of American Puritanism. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act came into effect in India in 1985 in deference to the 1961 UN convention. Yet the grey zone continued to function robustly in the realms of both the sacred and the profane. And so will it continue to, making it the more sensible option to go the Colorado and Washington way (although the federal law is yet to be changed in the US), and make it official that prohibition of this kind never quite works in the real world.