Weed Cap­i­tal

Nepal’s thriv­ing drug land­scape has at­tracted scores of visi­tors from around the world in spite of mass crit­i­cism of the grow­ing prac­tice.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

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.

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