Cannabis used to be grown and used abundantly in Nepal. Until 1973, it was even legal to sell it in shops and Kathmandu’s ‘Freak Street’ had become a hub for hippy culture. However, pressure from the US led Nepal’s government to make cannabis illegal, putting in place stiff sentences for offenders. Despite this, it’s still grown widely in the country.
- CBD Products
- Recreational cannabis
- Medicinal cannabis
- Cannabis laws in Nepal
- Can you possess and use cannabis in Nepal?
- Can you sell cannabis in Nepal?
- Can you grow cannabis in Nepal?
- Is CBD legal in Nepal?
- Can cannabis seeds be sent to Nepal?
- Medicinal cannabis in Nepal
- Industrial hemp in Nepal
- Good to know
- Cannabis history
- Attitudes towards cannabis
- Will it be legalised in the future?
Cannabis laws in Nepal
Can you possess and use cannabis in Nepal?
Before 1973, it was legal to possess and use cannabis in Nepal. The drug was widely used across the country, and there were even licensed dealers selling hashish in Kathmandu’s famous ‘Freak Street’ (‘Jhochhen’ in Nepalese).
In 1973, all this changed. As a result of considerable pressure from the US government (and the international community as a whole), the Nepalese government introduced a ban on the sale and purchase of cannabis. They also started arresting the sellers, and even buyers. The law defined cannabis as a ‘narcotic drug’, alongside opium and coca (used to make heroin and cocaine, respectively).
The dealers that had operated on Freak Street were deported to India. This led to the decline of the ‘hippy’ culture there, as the ban took greater hold.
The Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act states that it’s not illegal to use it, only to purchase, cultivate or prepare it. In practice, it’s difficult to see how an individual could use it, without first buying, growing or preparing the plant in some way! Even more confusingly, the same legal document states that those caught consuming cannabis will be “punished with an imprisonment for a term of up to one month, or with a fine unto two thousand rupees.”
If the offender willingly undertakes treatment, this sentence may be waived. Also, Nepalese officials have the power to withhold prosecution, if the individual has only consumed small amounts, or is a first-time offender. In order to do so, the offender must sign a bond, declaring that he won’t commit the offence again.
Other sources claim that the punishment is more severe. Offenders may receive a prison sentence of over five years, just for possessing small quantities of cannabis for personal use. The legalities involved in getting out of prison can also be an expensive, lengthy process.
Evidence suggests that attitudes may be changing. For example, Rabi Raj Thapa (Secretary for the Centre of Security and Justice Studies) commented: “Cannabis can help generate employment in far-flung areas of Nepal. It is a well-known fact that cannabis has recreational and medicinal values.”
In January 2020, Birodh Khatiwada (senior member of the Communist Party of Nepal) and 47 other lawmakers filed a motion calling for the legalisation of cannabis. Khatiwada later confirmed that it was predominantly focused on medicinal use, rather than recreational.
Additionally, some of the country’s leading oncologists have highlighted the health benefits of offering patients cannabis, and urged the government to consider legalising it for medicinal use. They also highlighted the advantage of legalising cannabis in rural communities where morphine isn’t readily available, as a form of alternative pain relief.
Despite this, experts agree that the law is unlikely to change any time soon.
Regardless of the tough sentences, a thriving cannabis industry still exists today, and the authorities sometimes turn a blind eye to its production and sale, especially if a bribe is offered. This is especially the case during the festival of Shivaratri.
Can you sell cannabis in Nepal?
It’s illegal to sell or supply drugs in Nepal. Despite this, the country is a major transit point for opiates (passing from South-East Asia to Europe), and is a large-scale producer of hashish both for domestic and international markets.
Smuggling or selling cannabis is regarded as a serious offence in Nepal. Many offenders are imprisoned without trial, and remain there until someone is able to pay for them to get out. Bribes are sometimes accepted as a way of avoiding jail, though this practice is illegal and can technically land the offender in even greater trouble.
According to the Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act, the penalties for selling, distributing or supplying cannabis are:
- Up to 50 grams – up to three months in prison, or a fine of 3,000 rupees
- Between 50 and 500 grams – from one month to one year in prison, and a fine of 1,000 to 5,000 rupees
- Between 500 grams and two kilograms – from six months to two years in prison, and a fine of 2,000 to 10,000 rupees
- Between two kilograms and 10 kilograms – from one to three years in prison, and a fine of 5,000 to 25,000 rupees
- 10 kilograms or over – from two to 10 years in prison, and a fine of 15,000 to 100,000 rupees
Prison conditions in Nepal are notoriously terrible. Even the Minister for Home Affairs, Ram Bahadur Thapa, stated that “prisons are torture houses and are not equipped with human correction resources.”
Can you grow cannabis in Nepal?
Before the prohibition of cannabis in 1973, the plant was grown widely across Nepal. It was valued not only for recreational, spiritual and medicinal purposes but also for practical use in making ropes and fibre, for example.
Then, laws were introduced, banning cannabis farming in the country apart from in specific locations (the “western hilly region of Nepal” according to the Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act), for a limited period of time, and with a licence from the government.
The penalties for cultivating cannabis in Nepal are:
- Under 25 plants – up to three months in prison, or a fine of 3,000 rupees
- Over 25 plants – up to three years in prison, or a fine of 5,000 to 25,000 rupees
After the law changed, cannabis cultivation still took place in the country but the farmers moved their plantations to more remote areas, where it was harder for the authorities to detect them. In some parts of Nepal, hashish (known as ‘charas’) is produced from the cannabis grown there. This is particularly the case in the isolated upper Darchula region.
This was proven in footage captured by Gabriel Morris in 2017, a YouTube travel videographer. He filmed a seemingly endless field of cannabis growing in Nepal, near the Annapurna Base Camp. Morris commented to the Daily Mail: “This area of the world is where cannabis comes from originally, so it’s not uncommon to see it in certain areas where conditions are right for growing. I saw it a bunch of times in the course of my several weeks of trekking the Himalayas.”
Is CBD legal in Nepal?
CBD is not differentiated from cannabis under the Nepalese Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act. Indeed, the law states that “the extract or essence” of cannabis is illegal. This means that it cannot be used, purchased or sold in the country.
Can cannabis seeds be sent to Nepal?
Although cannabis seeds are not explicitly mentioned in Nepal’s Narcotic (Drugs) Act, it is likely that they are regarded as an illicit substance by the authorities, and as such, cannot be mailed into the country.
Medicinal cannabis in Nepal
Not only is there no medicinal cannabis programme in Nepal, but the practice of using the plant for medicinal purposes is explicitly banned under the Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act. However, the same law states that, if “deemed necessary”, the government of Nepal may “make available in the required quantity of cannabis” for the production of medicine.
Industrial hemp in Nepal
The Nepalese law technically bans hemp cultivation apart from under specific conditions, in certain locations, and with a government licence. However, it grows abundantly across the country, and a hemp industry does exist – albeit amidst confusion regarding its legal status.
Companies like Shah Hemp Inno-Ventures have identified hemp as an economic opportunity in Nepal. They use the hemp grown there to create building materials which is exactly what the country needed after the earthquake in 2015.
Dhiraj K Shah, the CEO of the company told HempToday: “I always wanted to do something with hemp, but construction was never a focus (…) but when the earthquake hit, hemp for construction in Nepal started making a lot of sense.”
The success of such companies may have inspired a shift of attitude towards hemp production. In 2020, MP Sher Bahadur Tamang put forward The Cannabis Cultivation Act, which has obtained over 40 signatures from legislators to date. The Act contains directives that would help hemp-farmers across the country; such as:
- Removing the requirement of a licence for hemp grown for food products, or for industrial use.
- Removing the requirement of a licence for the sale and distribution of these products.
However, the Act would impose some restrictions too. For example, all hemp grown would have to contain less than 0.2% THC, something that critics regard as too restrictive. As of March, 2021, the bill has been registered, but is still waiting to be endorsed by the Nepalese government.
Good to know
If you are travelling to Nepal (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:
- During Shivaratri celebrations, cannabis use is commonplace, due to its religious significance. The Nepalese authorities even used to supply cannabis to the sadhus but stopped doing this in the 1990s, after being accused of ‘promoting’ the drug’s use.
- Nepalese cannabis tends to be sativa strains, with buds and effects that are similar to indica varieties. They’re often resinous, with sparse branches and dense buds.
Cannabis has been grown in Nepal for centuries and has been used in religious ceremonies, for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Its growth continued to be widespread in Nepal throughout the 1800s. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton noted that it was a “common weed” that wasn’t actively cultivated, though was “much used for the purposes of intoxication.”
He also outlined the process for preparing ‘charas’ by making an incision in the cannabis plant’s stem, then collecting the juice. Colonel Fitzpatrick gives a different an more familiar preparation account by rubbing the leaves until a resin sticks to the fingers. This approach is still used in some parts of the world today.
By 1972, Nepal had become one of the major hashish-producing nations on the planet. However, this was all set to change a year later. The government cancelled the licences of all cannabis retailers and farmers in the nation, as a result of pressure from the US, and the international community as a whole.
In theory, the cannabis trade was finished in Nepal. In practice, it still continued, albeit illegally. The cost to the country was considerable, with an estimated $100,000 in government being lost as a result of the new law being introduced.
Attitudes towards cannabis
Although cannabis is illegal in Nepal, it’s still widely used. Thanks to the mountainous, isolated geography of the country, it’s relatively easy for farmers to cultivate the plant without being detected by the authorities.
Additionally, there’s evidence that attitudes might be changing at a higher level. Ex-AIGP Rabi Raj Thapa commented that cannabis could “help generate employment in far-flung areas of Nepal,” before adding, “one thing is sure; our current laws are too harsh.”
Birendra Shrestha, a spokesperson for Nepal’s Narcotics Control Bureau, pointed out that many stakeholders and NGOs were recommending that the government should lift the ban on cannabis, due to its medicinal benefits and potential to create employment in rural areas.
Will it be legalised in the future?
While many prominent figures have spoken out against Nepal’s strict cannabis laws, the government has made no indication that it will change them any time soon. However, with other countries in Asia legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes, and cashing in on the economic potential of the plant, perhaps Nepal may follow suit in the future.
- Disclaimer:While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.