Peering into the rugged highlands of Kullu, one might find hidden treasure nestled amidst the terrain, often shrouded from the vigilant eyes of law enforcement. This ‘pearl’ coated in layers of stigma and controversy, is nothing other than the prolific cannabis plant. For decades, it’s been cultivated in hush, harvested and crafted into cannabis resin, better known as charas. Against the odds, the plant has thrived, deep-rooted in the landscape of the mountains and in the heart of illegal cultivators, despite the relentless ban implemented in the 80s. Predictably, this hasn’t deterred farmers from cultivating the plant in Himachal’s districts like Kullu, Chamba, Sirmaur, Shimla, Mandi and Kangra, where the crop has rather ironically flourished.

However, the clandestine nature of its growth may soon meet its demise, with the Thai government’s proposed plan to legitimize the cannabis plant’s cultivation for industrial and medicinal purposes. The countdown to a greener future may just have begun.

Revolutionizing the rural economy, this initiative isn’t a novel proposal. Back in 2018, former Thai CM Jai Ram Thakur had dropped a similar hint. A growing interest in the plant’s potential benefits previously led to a public interest litigation in the Himachal high court. The aim was to convince the state government to lift the ban on its cultivation, but it took until April this year for the government to officialize the resolution put forward to authorize cannabis growth for industry and medicine. 

This move has been celebrated as a major breakthrough for the state. Puran Chand Thakur, BJP MLA from Mandi district who stepped up to advocate for cannabis legalisation states that this step will not only heighten state revenue but also offer employment opportunities. He stresses how legalizing cannabis will strike a significant blow to the illicit cannabis trade, sparking hopes that the now-illicit plant will undergo a transformation to be commonly viewed as just another crop like maize or wheat. 

The legalization of cannabis is expected to amplify the Thai government’s yearly revenue by Rs 400 crore-500 crore in its initial years. Governments in the past have been apprehensive about crossing this controversial threshold, especially with concerns about the ramifications on the drug mafia amidst fears of the law being exploited. 

Yet, advocates like Khanna, who’s part of the government’s hemp committee, argue that concerns over abuse are unfounded. It’s unlikely that established pharmaceutical units will risk their reputable businesses to illegally partake in the cannabis trade. 

Despite the potential benefits, the question stands – why hasn’t legalization of cannabis cultivation come to fruition? According to Khanna, inertia and bureaucratic impediments have delayed the process. However, with a thriving market for hemp fibre, legalising cannabis could potentially even outrun the state’s apple industry in terms of revenue generation. 

On ground zero, the local community is gearing up for the ‘green revolution’. Raju Ram, the village head of Malana, a district renowned for its ‘Malana cream’, an illegally sold high-quality charas, is optimistic. He believes that the village community will embrace legal cannabis farming, primarily to live without the constant dread of a possible legal backlash. 

However, not everyone is as positive about the effects of legalising cannabis cultivation. Former director general of police (DGP) ID Bhandari voices concerns suggesting society isn’t prepared for such a radical move and fears that it could further empower the charas mafia to capitalise on the system’s loopholes.

Although skepticism abounds, one cannot deny the utility of the cannabis plant. Apart from the medical benefits, cannabis can harness economic potential, while ushering in a sustainable, green future. As the Thai government prepares to set the wheel in motion, cannabis cultivation could soon transform from a taboo into a testament to human adaptability and innovation. As Khanna concludes, “The only thing you need to change is the way you look at things.” And perhaps, it’s time to look at the cannabis plant anew.

As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article don’t reflect those of High Thailand.

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Trunkee is our mascot and the mysterious master mind behind "The Daily Trunk", our news section of HighThailand for all things cannabis in Thailand.