It’s strange how law enforcement agencies, including the nodal agency for matters related to narcotics drugs, psychotropic substances and substance abuse, claim innocence on the existence of a firm that produces and sells hemp extracts in Thimphu.

This comes at a time when the drug crackdown operation, which started on December 2, 2013, is still ongoing and more than 6,000 people have been sent behind bars for crimes related to drugs since the operation began.

There are many incidences of police raiding homes to curb drug distribution and farmers of Baelangdrangdra in Wangdue and Shingkhar Lauri in Samdrupjongkhar, who made a living out of selling hashish, were imprisoned for the offence.  Police even named and shamed drug peddlers by uploading their photos on social media.

Our laws restrict commercial production and utilisation of cannabis.  The Narcotic Drugs Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act (NDPSSAA) 2005, which was twice amended in 2015 and 2018, classified cannabis as a narcotic drug and criminalises those who cultivate, domesticate or harvest cannabis.

In some countries, medicinal cannabis is prescribed to relieve symptoms of some medical conditions, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

Attempts have been made to explore the cannabis in the country for medicinal value too.  Research was conducted but it concluded that wild cannabis in Bhutan had a high content of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and did not recommend it for medicinal purposes, as it was addictive.

To legalise medical cannabis, clauses in the NDPSSAA have to be amended in Parliament.  Until that is done, the law should apply to everyone, irrespective of who the offender is.  How fair is it to punish farmers who sell cannabis or drug peddlers if a firm is allowed to produce and sell hemp extracts under the noses of police and BNCA?

Ignoring the existence of the firm or pretending not to know is only going to make matters worse, as it shows a lack of respect for the rule of law.

Agencies and officials are only making a mockery of the national effort against drugs by meting out different treatment to the firm.  It only helps to confirm the belief that our law only applies to the poor.

There is no use in curbing access to controlled substances if hemp extracts are available through a phone call without any prescription.

Once legalised through proper procedures, if the hemp extracts are beneficial in treating various health problems, including cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, various pains including headache, inflammation, and insomnia, as the firm claims on its product cover, it should be made available and affordable to all Bhutanese citizens.