Nepal’s thriving drug landscape has attracted scores of visitors from around the world in spite of mass criticism of the growing practice.
Drugs, such as marijuana, weed and cannabis, therefore, hold a high level of religious significance. This can somewhat be attributed to each drug’s native properties which in many cases influences a person’s sense (i.e. his sense of sight and touch), gives him an altered sense of time and changes moods. To connect with one’s spiritual self requires a certain level of detachment with one’s surroundings as well as a deep association with a world beyond the mundane; hence, the traditional roots of such drugs which can be traced back to the time of the gods.
In fact, marijuana and cannabis began to appear on the commercial front only in the late 60s and early 70s, when Nepal became the glorified hub for hippies, the Freaks, the Flower Children; basically the champions of the counter culture movement established against the hypocrisy of society. The vast availability of such drugs resulted in scores of hippies flocking to Kathmandu to live a life of liberal freedom, filled with drugs, sex and spiritualism. At the time, many small cafes, restaurants and stores along the streets of Jhonchen (also known as ‘Freak Street’) freely and legally sold hashish and marijuana. This resulted in increased cultivation and large scale smuggling of the drugs into the provinces of northern India. Over the next eight years, smoking ganja ( marijuana) or charas ( hashish) became not only an acceptable norm but a mark of sophistication.
By 1973, the government of Nepal had initiated a mass crackdown in order to make it illegal to buy, sell or cultivate cannabis. All dealers’ licenses were revoked on July 16, 1973. Many factors contributed to this sudden change. First, locals were alarmed at the increasing rate at which the society’s youth was engaging in such practices and, thus, feared that they were being corrupted to the point of no return. Second, Nepal was under a lot of pressure from both the United Nations as well as the United States to join respectable nations in outlawing cannabis and curbing the spread of narcotics. Yet, in spite of all restrictions, many of these drugs are still widely available for use today. The Thamel and Pokhara regions of Kathmandu consist of many groups of people engaged in the production and sale of hashish. Business seems to be booming as, according to some sources, Nepal is ranked 22 out of the 25 best places to smoke weed.
Still, the government of Nepal has in no way let up on its drive to curb the use and sale of such drugs. The law extends to both locals as well as foreigners and the penalty for each is severed. In 2013 alone, 129 foreigners were arrested for the possession and trafficking of drugs in the country. According to the Nepalese Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), a substantial number of tourists are found to be involved in drug smuggling, thus reverting the attention of authorities to the control of drug trafficking networks.
As a result of the curb, Nepal has still had to deal with its fair share of consequences. Firstly, the government now loses revenues worth $100,000 previously earned from licenses given to dealers. Hill farmers, for whom cannabis was a small, but crucial cash crop, have been hit the hardest as they have no other means of earning an income. Yet, in spite of all this, there has been little outcry against the intervention, though few choose to voice their complaints in private. Many claim that the restrictions work against the interests of poor people as many do not have the money to buy an alternative, alcohol, which is only available at exorbitant prices in Nepal. Perhaps if the government were to slightly modulate the restrictions in a way that poor people are taken care of, the situation would not be so dismal.