Cannabis in Sri Lanka – Laws, Use, and History

Cannabis is illegal in Sri Lanka and the government takes a tough stance on possession and sale of the substance, with fines and prison sentences. However, it has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and practitioners can sell cannabis-based medicine to their patients, as long as the ingredients come from the Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation.

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Cannabis laws in Sri Lanka

Can you possess and use cannabis in Sri Lanka?

It is illegal to use cannabis recreationally in Sri Lanka. The Poisons, Opium, and Dangerous Drugs Act states that: “No person shall, without the licence of the Minister, sow, plant, cultivate, obtain, or have in his possession any poppy plant, coca plant, or hemp plant, or collect or have in his possession the seeds, pods, leaves, flowers, or any part of any such plant.”

Sri Lanka has strict penalties in place for possession of cannabis. If it’s five kilos or less, this is typically regarded as a minor offence, and the punishment is likely to be a fine or a short prison sentence. Possessing larger quantities is considered a more serious offence. In this instance, offenders receive bigger fines and longer prison sentences, at the discretion of the judge.

Can you sell cannabis in Sri Lanka?

It is also illegal to sell or supply cannabis in Sri Lanka. The law states that: “No person shall collect, prepare, process, sell or offer for sale, manufacture, store, obtain or have in his possession, distribute or use (a) any resin obtained from the hemp plant for the preparations or extracts from the hemp plant commonly known as bhang, hashish or ganja or any other preparation of which such resin forms apart.”

Trafficking is regarded as a serious offence and incurs a fine and a prison sentence. In 2004, the death penalty (which had been abolished in 1976) was reinstated for various crimes – drug trafficking being one of them. However, according to the Poisons, Opium, and Dangerous Drugs Act this only applies to heroin, cocaine and morphine trafficking, and there haven’t been any executions since 2004. Usually, death sentences are reduced automatically to life imprisonment.

Can you grow cannabis in Sri Lanka?

It is illegal to grow cannabis in Sri Lanka, unless it is for medical purposes (and grown by state-hired farmers). However, even though it’s illegal, cannabis is still cultivated widely across the country, particularly in the eastern and southern provinces.

The Sri Lankan Excise department, in conjunction with the police, run regular eradication campaigns to curtail this cultivation.

Is CBD legal in Sri Lanka?

CBD is illegal in Sri Lanka, as it is categorised as part of the ‘hemp plant’ in Sri Lankan law.

Can cannabis seeds be sent to Sri Lanka?

Cannabis seeds are illegal in Sri Lanka. As a result, they cannot be sent to the country in the post.

Medicinal cannabis in Sri Lanka

Despite Sri Lanka’s tough stance on cannabis, the government announced in 2017 that it would be legalising cannabis cultivation for medical purposes. The cannabis is exclusively for Ayurvedic practitioners in the country, though some will also be exported to the US for medical use.

Rajitha Senaratne, the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, commented that: “Many Ayurvedic doctors have complained that they don’t get good quality cannabis for their preparations. Good cannabis is a vital ingredient in the preparation of traditional medicine.”

Prior to this amendment to the law, practitioners were relying on black-market cannabis that had previously been seized by the police. Senaratne added: “By the time our native doctors get this cannabis, it is about four to five years old and it has lost its effectiveness.”

The government made plans to dedicate 100 acres to farming cannabis, with the aim of producing over 25 tonnes a year.

Industrial hemp in Sri Lanka

Although there are several cannabis plantations in Sri Lanka (particularly in the eastern and southern provinces), the cultivation of industrial hemp is technically illegal.

Sri Lankan officials routinely destroy or seize the harvest from cannabis plantations once they’re discovered, regardless of what purpose the plants are grown for.

Sri Lanka’s political parties and cannabis

The Sri Lankan government takes the shape of a semi-presidential representative democratic republic and is a multi-party system. This means that on issues such as cannabis legalisation, a wide range of political opinions are heard.

Many politicians support the use of cannabis for traditional medicine, which was reflected by the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine’s decision to legalise it for Ayurvedic preparations.

Good to know

If you are travelling to Sri Lanka (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:

  • Around 600,000 people were reported to be using cannabis in Sri Lanka in 2005. Of these, a significant number were using it for Ayurvedic practices.  
  • Police raids are common in Sri Lanka, particularly on the roads at night. The police often check and search cars and tuk tuks.
  • Cannabis is sometimes referred to as ‘the sacred plant’, as it plays a key role in some Hindu festivals.

Cannabis history

Like many Asian countries, Sri Lanka has a long, illustrious history of cannabis use and cultivation. In ancient times, it was used in Ayurvedic medicine to stimulate appetite and promote digestion, and numerous other health conditions. King Buddadasa (341AD) even wrote about the medical values of cannabis in his pharmacopeia, Saratha Sangrahaya.

It’s believed that the Sri Lankan people traded cannabis and hashish with several other countries throughout the medieval period. From the early 17th century, the island endured times of political turbulence, as various nations invaded and seized control. In 1675, the Dutch colonial rulers banned the trafficking of cannabis entirely.

In the 1900s, the British took control of Sri Lanka. It was in this period that the international trade in cannabis and hashish intensified, as well as that in opium and cocaine. By around 1860, Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was called back then) had several British-run coca plantations. At least some of these were in operation until after World War II. 

Attitudes to cannabis

Sri Lankan attitudes to cannabis are sometimes contradictory. On the one hand, many consider it to be a harmless substance, used for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic preparations. It’s often prized for its medical benefits too. Even government officials have acknowledged its value to society, with the Ministry of Indigenous Medicines legalising small quantities for Ayurvedic practitioners to use

However, others regard it as an illicit, dangerous drug. This is reflected in its legal status at present.

What is Sri Lankan cannabis like?

Most local strains exhibit the classic South Asian ‘sativa’ appearance (now agreed by botanists to be a subtype of C. sativa sp. Indica). It is tall and has many branches, with wide-spaced internodes and narrow, dark green leaves. The plants are usually aromatic and produce floral, peppermint or citrus scents.

The high obtained from most Sri Lankan cannabis is clear and cerebral with little drowsiness.

Ayurvedic practices in Sri Lanka

Ayurvedic medicine has been traditionally used in Sri Lanka for centuries, and is still widely practiced today. Cannabis is an important ingredient of many of the medicines, and the different varieties are given various Sinhalese or Sanskrit names, such as:

  • Virapati (‘hero-leaved’)
  • Capta (‘light-hearted’)
  • Ananda (‘bliss’)
  • Trilok kamaya (‘desired in three worlds’)
  • Harshini (‘the rejoicers’)

These names indicate the specific properties of each, referring to benefits such as inducing a euphoric state or heightening sexual energy.

In the past, registered Ayurvedic practitioners obtained cannabis via the Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation. In turn, the Corporation got their cannabis from the police for free, who often passed on plants that they’d seized from illegal commercial plantations.

At the turn of the 21st century, the future of Ayurvedic medicine hung in the balance. The clash between these traditional practices (and their more relaxed approach) and negative modern attitudes to cannabis meant that the Ayurvedic medicines were at risk of being phased out.

However, announcements from the government in 2017 suggest that this is no longer the case. In 2018, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne outlined plans to cultivate cannabis on 100 acres of land, to use for domestic Ayurvedic practices and for export to the US.

What is Madana modaka?

Madana modaka is a medicinal preparation used in Ayurvedic practice. It is legally sold by the Ayurvedic Corporation and other Ayurvedic practitioners, and contains cannabis leaves and seeds. These are usually fried in ghee, along with other herbs such as coriander, kottan, thipal, asamodagam and namal renu.

Madana modaka is used to treat flatulence and loss of appetite, and is believed to act as a sexual stimulant.

In recent years, Ayurvedic pharmacies supplying madana modaka have experienced problems with the law, with their medicine being seized and destroyed. A notable case was in 2002, when an individual in Udalawale was arrested for possession of madana modaka. When the Ayurvedic practitioner who had supplied it appealed to the police, he too was arrested. This was despite the fact that he’d made the madana modaka with ingredients obtained from the Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation.

Since then, there have been several other instances like this. There is a perception that the Ayurvedic practitioners are ‘targeting children’ with their products. This led the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa to instruct police to target practitioners suspected of selling madana modaka near schools.

Will cannabis be legalised in the future?

Although the Sri Lankan government recently adopted a softer stance on the use of cannabis for medical purposes, overall, it shows no signs of doing the same for recreational use. As such, it seems unlikely that it will be fully legalised any time soon.

  • 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.

Comments

30 thoughts on “Cannabis in Sri Lanka – Laws, Use, and History”

  1. very nice article (well done 🙂 ) and almost all of it is true & accurate. There was a slight mistake “a kilogram of cannabis is around Rs. 20,000 very good quality (cannabis is very hard to come by because of the governments strict policy against narcotics & only a very few cannabis crops left in the country hence the high cost)
    Advice every one not to use the Kerala Cannabis because as of now they do not import it anymore, they make it locally and uses very bad highly poisonous ingredients (like bug spray, Formaldehyde etc.. to make it) it gives you a killer high but in long term use very very bad for your health. You can find it anywhere in the country, that itself proves that it is not imported.

    Keep up the good work

  2. Cannabis products like madana modaka should be allowed to be sold to people above 21 years as done for cigarettes in sri lanka. Why do they ban it beacause the children are using it. And if it is bad for children why can’t the adults use it.

  3. Sunil Randombage De Silva

    Cannabis Sativa L is the illegal variety in terms of the current law, Opium and dangerous drugs Act. Cannabis Indica is not a variety. But the police will certainly take custody and file action if you are caught with Indica, but refuse to bribe him or argue with him. They don’t know any damn thing about the botanical difference between Sativa L and Indica. I can assure you that Indica variety is the medicinal variety with broad leaves. If some one is ready I am ready to propagate its use.

    Sunil r. de Sivla

    1. we only got sativas in here and kg is also a sativa both are same but guys in here don’t know how to harvest it, they mix all the parts of the plant but only buds can make you high, leafs also contains a very little bit of thc(that is the chemical that makes you high) and kg is just buds and some small leafs around bud. In SL we also can make kg without bug spray we just have to do is trimming leafs out of bud and cutting out sticks and drying and curing, quality kg can easily identify by just a look (for me and some of my friends also) it will be easy to you for doing some studies. Many guys spread that lie, we mostly got locally made kg be wise if you are stoner just buy good weed that available in SL ….take your time and google about weed it helps you to find truth about weed and also that will help you to find best kg. anyway kg is not the best product but it will help you if you want to get real high

  4. Greendreams

    Fantastic!

    Im sitting in Kandy reading this insightful article only hours after purchase. The men who sold it to me were claiming it was Karela, After much deliberation and confussion with the expense (5000 Rs for 8 grams) i asked “do you want some with me?” the two mens eyes shot out of their head as if they stumbled across a plantation in the Yala national park. After a while the two men became very jovial at the fact i had taken an interest in their lives and sharing a passion for cannabis. As we continued to share the moment in the hills above Kandy they handed me back 2000 Rs. Much to my confusion they then explained; due to the recent change in government much of the weed coming over is sprayed to increase weight. The 8 grams i bought was quickly taken back and the men then handed me some “Sri lankan grown” and this was far supior to the sluggish headache matter that we had used only minutes before.

    Sri Lankan people are life changly beautiful! The men also ethusiastically told me that more and more young people are taking on a passion for Cannabis however, stand restricted due to the new governments efforts to crack down on growing and dealing. Apparently the younger cops are far more strict although did not give reason as to why.

    This is a classic case of showing a slight interest in ones life and it leading to true connection with or without the beautiful intoxication of Cannabis.

  5. Kobola Senevirathna

    Thank you for publishing something meaningful.
    If you vaporize ganja you get lots of benefits out of ganja. But If you smoke you pay a high price from your multi-million dollars worth lungs.

  6. Rohitha Dissanayake

    I initiated this article with Sensi Seeds as a part of a project . Coming soon ———————-

    1. Rohitha, any word on your progress for this project? Headed to SL to hunt for some seeds very soon. Gathering as much info for my journey as possible. Great article! Thank you to the Sri Lankan’s offering advise and tips as well! You guys are wonderful.

      Have an awesome day!
      -C

  7. This article is great,if you guys are planning on smoking weed in SL please make sure that you’ll not buy KG known as Kerala ganja though the dealers say it’s from Kerala but honestly homegrown local shit vapourised with all kinds of unspecified unknown sprays etc.and this kg shit doesn’t even last for 20mins..if you have already continued smoking this kg shit please be aware that you’ll end up with alot of brain cell damage and abundance of anxiety as I underwent ending up in the hospital..so my advice is for you guys to search for pure homegrown weed which is not harmful as Kg..finding homegrown shit in civilized areas of SL is hard but if you make an effort you could..KG is introduced to newborns and they endup with severe anxiety disorders,finally the government concludes that cannabis is illegal for the after effects of KG,and giving a bad reputation on good shit..so find good shit and smoke good shit.. ?????

  8. First and foremost, great article! I would like to add a few points

    1. As mentioned by many, do not smoke KG/Kerala Ganja (unless you are unable to source better
    2. Prices
    – 10g of KG would cost you around 1500-2000Rs (and you would probably get 7gs, get a scale!)
    – a Tola of manali hash would cost around 14-16,000Rs (if you buy by the quarter, it would be 4500rs-4000/quarter+logistics
    – a Tola of Morrocan hash would cost around 18k, but if you buy by the quarter, its 4500rs/quarter (weird logic, clearly manali is over priced)
    – You get good bud/kush here, but that would set you back 4500rs/gram (again its like 0.8 grams, know your guy well or else will always lose a lil
    *Think these are market rates, obviously you can get better rates, but that depends on your dealer relationship
    (TOLA IS 12.5 grams if am not mistaken, but here, it stops at 10, such that 10grams has become a tola)

    3. Strict
    – Cops are more vigilant, dont smoke in the open (yeah people act all fearless, but I have seen quite a few people nabbed for their negligence)
    – Lot of people provide tips to cops (ie a majority of people are against or do not understand)

    Safe!

  9. This article is worth reading.
    I really want us to legalize cannabis, I’ve been studying the plant for a while now & I don’t think I could go on without it.
    I’ve used it for its medical purposes & cured my tumors, I think it’s about time we as an ayurveda fueled country legalized it.
    I’d love to support a campaign, anyone got any ideas?

  10. Great Research !! You should do one on india’s hash and weed . Himachal’s hash is one the best everyone knows that but so far i found the best weed from west bengal darjeeling its pure green and all and hardly people know about it ! better than anywhere in india i found as a local traveller myself its gives almost the same high as you get in Malana Cream .

  11. This article is excellent . I heard sm aurvedic doctors cure cancer using cannabis. American doctor who were killed by cancer medic company in USA just what? He s reaserch confermd that cannabis have cancer killing something that called THC – TETRA HYDRO CANABINOL. Your atricle was soo well. Pls can you find more about this and do more articles god bless u. Coz sri lankan cancer hospitle have many of patients including child to older. But the medicine have the srilanka . Most a growing illeagelly. Every time most patient using cheep medicines . Ex . Rabies many gov hospitles give patients to horse serum . Human serum more than cost. Why cant give good vaccsin for the coz its cost ? So what we have to do write more n more and fight for cancer patient. Thanks
    Nirosh Amarasooriya

  12. doing research on this… this article has being the most helpful the most.. thanks so much 🙂

  13. Being a foreigner If I want to hire / purchase agriculture land in Sri Lanka and want to grow cannabis with legal permissions and export as per Govt norms for medicine purpose then how to go for it?

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi there,

      Unfortunately I don’t have an answer for your question, this is really outside of my field of experience! Perhaps one of our readers can give you some advice though. Wishing you all success with your endeavours,

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

  14. what are the penalties/fines if you do get caught with smal quantities in the range of 1 to 5 grammes of weed/hash/kush/kg?…anybody know?

  15. If you search better, you can buy good quality local grown 10g for 1500rs in colombo area. In rural areas you will get 500rs packet 3-5 grams. If you somehow find a large scale Ganja grower you can get 1kg for15000-20000rs. Anyway in rural areas people grow some plants secretly for their own use and they dont sell those. If you have some friends in rural areas you will get some good shit for free.

    I am a Local stoner.

  16. Hey. Im the one of phantom limb pain patient in sri lanka. Im suffering lot and i have 24 hours pain.(feel like thundering in my body) im used many pain killers like gabapentin, tramadol, deluxtin, ketamin and etc. I dont like to pain killers beacaus there have lot of side effects. Pain killers can’t heal me(include cannabis) but cannabis can heal my mind and relaxing my mind. i want to use cannabis legally. please sri lanka🇱🇰 legalized it. u have a citizen who suffered lot with deadly pain.

    ( im not good with english but i wish u can understand what i mean)

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Nima,

      Thank you for sharing your story, I’m sorry to hear about your pain. I hope that Sri Lanka legalises soon!

      Your English is perfectly understandable, don’t worry. I hope that you continue to enjoy the blog.

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

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