Asian countries such as China & India have long been the breeding ground for radical innovative ideas & concepts to transform how the World functions. A succinct example of this would be the inextricable historical link between their local cultures and the inherent potential of plants like Opium & Cannabis which surrounded them. From as far back as 2,737 Bc(For Cannabis) and 3400 B.C(For opium), Indian & Chinese royalty were harnessing the curative abilities of both plants to provide progressive medical solutions for their societies. In fact, the Ancient Sumarians referred to Opium as Hul Gil, the "joy plant."

Similarly, The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report(1893) had also looked into earlier considerations in India to prohibit cannabis in 1798, 1872 and 1892, concluding that those proposals had always been rejected on the grounds that the plant grew wild almost everywhere and attempts to stop the common habit in various forms could provoke the local population and drive them into using more harmful intoxicants.

Over the last 5 centuries, plants such as these have seen a paradigm shift in their public perception & use ; Right from the times of Manuel Garcia De Orta( A botanist who was one of the first Portuguese citizens to explore India’s natural potential in the 1500s) developing cannabis based medicines to combat Malaria, to the 1960s & 1980s when their cultivation was outlawed under the International Conventions for Controlled Substances due to the risk of their recreational mis-use.

Within 10-15 years of the single Convention of 1961 many countries had brought in ridiculously tough laws. These caused increase in abuse of alternate substances- all synthetic and all far more dangerous than plant based narcotics from cannabis, coca or opium. This has led to fractured social communities in India & across the World, who have seen their youth turn towards dangerous synthetic drugs such as Heroin, Amphetamines, Flakka, Mescaline, Ketamine etc to supplement their craving for a recreational high.

Fast forward to the present day, when its seemingly obvious to the global public that the War of Drugs has emphatically failed on most counts. It has reached a tipping point, emphasized by the fact that several countries are implementing alternative approaches to decriminalizing/regularizing the recreational use of plant based narcotics.

A report by the 2002 Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs in Canada about the emergence of the international drug control regime aptly summarized the situation: The international regime for the control of psychoactive substances, beyond any moral or even racist roots it may initially have had, is first and foremost a system that reflects the geopolitics of North-South relations in the 20th century. Indeed, the strictest controls were placed on organic substances – the coca bush, the poppy and the cannabis plant – which are often part of the ancestral traditions of the countries where these plants originate, whereas the North’s cultural products, tobacco and alcohol, were ignored and the synthetic substances produced by the North’s pharmaceutical industry were subject to regulation rather than prohibition.

In Portugal decriminalization of drug use was introduced in 2001. Jails emptied out, age of consumption of drugs rose from 10 yrs to 16 years. Similarly, Five Latin American countries have adopted similar reviews – With Uruguay going ahead & legalizing the recreational use of Cannabis. In Europe the Swiss and the Dutch too have developed their own models, which place greater emphasis on public health than law & order. The former director of the Peruvian National Drug Control Commission, Ricardo Soberon, said: "The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade – a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others – is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results." Nothing articulates policy ambiguity over narcotics plants in India quite like the status of Cannabis’ use. Although the NDPS Act 1985 prohibits the production, sale and consumption of certain parts of the cannabis plant, the leaves are an exception. There are even government-approved bhang shops in towns like Jaisalmer and Pushkar, and more than 200 such shops – including Pathak’s – exist year-round in Varanasi.

What India can learn from globally evolving policies & attitudes is the need to evolve NDPS’ drug policy regulations to fit modern day societal considerations, from harsher to more lenient punishments for small-time consumers. The non-criminalization of local use is a shared policy sentiment amongst several nations globally. Taking into account India’s historical & cultural association with plants such as Cannabis, de-stigmatizing its use seems to be the major path forward for the nation’s approach towards plant based drugs/narcotics.

In order to gauge the popular sentiment of India’s citizens, it would also be essential to conduct an opinion poll annually- to determine people's views/opinions towards cannabis, opium as well as synthetic substances.

This would have several cascading positive effects focused around de-cluttering the number of cases within the judicial system, thereby providing a second lease of life to many young citizens who are left to rot in jail, by putting them on the path to recovery.

Sadly, very few enterprises and organizations are at all interested in directly engaging with Government policy makers to facilitate such positive change. Though fortunately over the course of time, there seems to exist a horizon of changemakers who are willing to step into this sensitive domain.

In India, companies such as Bombay Hemp Company have been leading the charge to generate awareness & traction over the industrial/medicinal use of Cannabis, whilst in the Indian parliament MPs such as Tathagata Satpathy & Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi have been focused on evolving the drugs narrative towards decriminilazation of Cannabis & opium based localized narcotics.

With ample support & awareness generation from integral institutions such as the media as well as academic/research institutes, persistent pressure will eventually accelerate India’s foray onto the path of a progressive, public health centered drug policy.