Not content with what is peddled on the streets, marijuana smokers are now growing their own weed, finds Nishita Jha
GANJA HAS existed on earth forever. It doesn’t need us to help it grow,” claims Aftab (25) while cleaning his chillum. Looking at the Delhi-based musician’s impressive indoor- garden, where four weed plants (each a foot tall) compete for UV rays from halogen bulbs, one gets the feeling he’s wondering what the fuss is all about. “Apples can grow with mother nature’s love. But a little help from technology gives you those perfect apples with stickers,” he grins.
Aftab’s marijuana garden is not a freak phenomenon. Recreational pot smokers in urban centres with access to the Internet and spare cash are waking up to the possibility of growing the stuff at home — a process made easier thanks to various UK, US and Netherlandsbased sites like maryjanesgarden.com and canaseeds.com. The Internet will not only help you choose the right strain but also deliver these mail-order babies to your doorstep. The clever loophole allowing these sites to exist globally is that they claim to distribute seeds as ‘Souvenirs Only’. The seeds are sold in packs of five to ten, a good strain costing anywhere from £50-150 (Rs 3,400-10,200) — justified for their being ‘feminised’, ie, guaranteed to grow once planted. Little pockets of Indian urbanites are flocking to these sites and a small subculture — still just a network who connect across the country to exchange notes — is hardening into shape. These oddballs are not your traditional losers projected by an outdated pop culture — above anything else, they’re efficient in their pursuit of a high-standard, low-risk fix.
The cannabis sativa strain is bushier and taller than cannabis indica — your choice depends on space constraints. Sativa gives a cerebral high as opposed to Indica’s mildly debilitating ‘body’ high. While one may convince you that you’ve found a solution to the global food crisis, the other is more likely to be responsible for the crisis of an empty refrigerator. A third strain, cannabis ruderalis, possesses less THC (tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive substance in cannabis) but has been hybridised to produce fasterflowering plants with high potency.
Germinating the seeds in cotton wool before they are planted evokes memories of school science projects. The entire undertaking belies the stereotypical pot smoker who lies in bed all day with a bag of chips and a PS3. “I felt like an expectant father,” smiles Jatin Rai, a 25-year-old architect from Chennai. “Even when I’d to leave town for work I’d make my girlfriend come to ensure the plants were fine.” Does she smoke as well? “Obviously, how else would I trust her with my plant?” he answers with some alarm. While it’s possible to grow plants the good old way — flowerpots, soil, sunshine — an advanced ‘hydroponic’ method can increase potency — a basic underwater system of a large tub of water, a reservoir of nutrients, a layer of rockwool and a filter to create a flow of nutrients over the plants. Lighting remains important since the plant forms THC as a defense against UV rays, but you also can’t let it get too hot. Rahul, a 23-year-old designer from Delhi too found good use for halogen lights from his studio. Given the ubiquity required here — the space, the gizmos, the unmistakable smell — are stoners finally coming out of the closet?
“It’s like love — impossible to hide! I’d sit in my room for hours soaking in the joy of creation — of course I talked to my plant!” laughs Kannav (23), a researcher studying in Ladakh. “My parents saw I was tired of living a lie. When I came clean, we had long conversations — but they saw that I was still productive [and] not a junkie, so they were fine. They’re my maa baap, dude, they’ll still love me.”
The websites may exist on precarious justifications and parental love may overlook social transgressions, but ordering and cultivating seeds are both definitely illegal in India. All unlicensed growth and distribution of cannabis and cannabis-derivatives is banned, according to the Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS). Scary as that sounds, ganja still exists in a category separate from the really serious drugs — LSD and Ecstacy are classified psychotropics, while heroin and cocaine fall under the more lethal ‘Class A’ drugs. Delhi-based lawyer Piyush Kumar (28) explains that your neighbourhood stoner could go to jail for a year on charges of possessing 1 to 10 grammes of cannabis (legally believable as personal stash), but the law is more likely to go after bigger fish — those cultivating marijuana or distributing Class A drugs on a commercial scale.
The transition from smoking to growing at home was just a novelty for some, a DIY activity better than crocheting a wall-hanging. Rahul explains his evangelical motives to save his friends from bad smoke: “Delhi’s ganja is disgusting. It’s laced with rat-poison, battery acid and worse. In Amsterdam I realised that good weed is hard to come by here. That’s how I first considered growing my own.” Kolkata-based visual artist Rati Bose is defiant about the legal issues of her favourite plant: “Companies that make painkillers would go out of business if grass was made legal.” Rati’s friends support the corporate conspiracy theory with stories of policemen who nabbed them only to ‘score’ weed. “You can still buy ganja cigarettes at government-licensed thekas in Orissa,” points out Aftab. “How many cannabis-related instances of violence have you heard of? You can’t overdose on ganja unless you smoke twice your body weight — you’d fall asleep before you get to that point,” he says seriously. Dr Devendra Mohan, ex-head of the Department of Psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), agrees: “Anti-social behaviour is less likely to be associated with cannabis than with alcohol — its worst effect being that it often proves to be a gateway drug for other harmful substances.”
WHILE THAT marvellous thing — a medical marijuana card — seems to project nations like the US and Canada to be more stonerfriendly, Kumar outlines the local situation: “The Indian law permits carrying marijuana for medical reasons, provided it’s sanctioned and verified by a licensed practitioner. But it goes a step further and allows the licensed cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes too, such as rope and paper.”
A 1996 AIIMS workshop concluded that cannabis has no adverse side effects, and so legalising derivatives of the cannabis sativa plant (ganja, charas, bhang) is acknowledged as a future possibility. Stoners might be increasingly networked and ‘coming out’ to the wider world — but don’t bet on bulk orders from your grocer just yet.
(Some names have been changed)