Cannabis, Hippies and Nepal’s Economy

Published On: March 28, 2023 09:00 AM NPT By: Sugam Gautam

From time immemorial, cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes. It is believed that if taken in the proper amount, marijuana can cure mild to moderate ailments.

In the early 1960s, herds of young people from the West milling about the streets of Kathmandu caught everyone’s attention. Their uncanny attires, long hair, and unkempt appearance left the Kathmandu residents curious and contemplative. They would trudge along the streets, exuding an air of recklessness. Those carefree groups of people were called hippies. Tens of thousands of hippies came to Nepal in the pursuit of spirituality, tranquility and freedom. Triggered by the impact of war and political chaos in the West, the hippies landed in Nepal to experience peace and distinct culture. The hippies aspired to detach themselves from materialistic pleasure, and Kathmandu became a perfect venture for them, with cannabis available almost everywhere. 

Back then, cannabis was legal in Nepal, and it drew hippies from across the world. The thought of smoking marijuana against the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas intrigued the hippies; thus, they set off toward this mystic land. The Jhonche street, referred to as Freak Street, served as a hemp haven where every eatery sold cannabis-laced items, i.e. hemp milk tea, hemp milk coffee, etc. The hippies made their way through other South Asian countries to Nepal on colorful buses and trucks. The people who witnessed those days recount that the foreigners indulging in the Nepali culture was an amazing sight to behold. Many believe that hippies were drug-addictive and came to Nepal just for the dope, but the large population considers that they were here for more than cannabis. 

In those days, the premises of Freak Street were filled with Westerners, outnumbering the local people. The cramped eateries produced a thick cloud of smoke, making it impossible to recognize the figure behind it. The joint was passed from one hand to another until it dwindled to a stub. Inside the rooms, they built their paradise as they talked, giggled, and smoked ganja as though they were just made for that. Western music resonated through the eateries, streets and temples of Kathmandu. It is believed that the hippies were the ones who brought Western music and English Literature to Nepal. They came in pursuit of peace, bringing them with Western civilization.

The exotic Himalayas, antique buildings, and religious diversity fascinated their consciousness. They cherished this novelty wholeheartedly. Their stay in Kathmandu put Nepal in the spotlight. The experts say that it was the Hippie Trail that set the tone for tourism in Nepal. Until then, tourists were not noticed in substantial numbers. Tourism was at its peak when the hippie period prevailed in Nepal for around 15 years. Of all the driving forces, legal cannabis was considered the primary one that brought the hippies to Nepal. If cannabis was not legal, it is harmless to say that they would not have bothered to come just for the sightseeing in such volume. In those times, the government permitted the sale of cannabis, and licensed shops were allowed to sell it without any legal restriction. In the rural areas, cannabis bloomed in the fields and gardens, acquiring farmers a hefty sum of money. The farmers were delighted to have sold the marijuana for a good return. Along with other cash crops, they could rely on marijuana to make their living.

More and more hippies continued flocking to Nepal, and the demand for marijuana never subsided. Kathmandu became a hub for cannabis, adding to the delight of visitors, farmers and traders. Everything was going well for all of them until the Nepal government decided to ban the cultivation and use of cannabis. Facing pressure from the United States and the international community, the government was forced to punctuate the application of cannabis. The golden period of the Hippie Trail ended in the late 70s, leaving the hippies agitated. They berated the Nepal government for putting an end to the wonderful period when one could smoke ganja just like people smoke cigarettes these days. After cannabis was banned, the hippies left Nepal, and Freak Street lost its charm. Kathmandu became desolate.

The cultivation and use of cannabis has been illegal in Nepal since 1976. Nowadays, there’s a discourse going on about the legalization of cannabis, and it is important to be far-sighted before making a hasty call. The consequences should be evaluated if cannabis were to be made legal once again. Many social groups have been formed demanding the lift of the ban. They are assured that the legalization of cannabis will do more good than harm. Even if it’s not legal, people have been cultivating and consuming it on a daily basis. The youths, these days, are seen smoking ganja by the river, in the forest, or in other secluded places where the authorities can’t trace them easily. In many places, police are noticed destroying the illegal cultivation of marijuana. 

From time immemorial, cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes. It is believed that if taken in the proper amount, marijuana can cure mild to moderate ailments. In Nepal, cannabis is consumed in remembrance and devotion to God; on the eve of Maha Shivaratri, people smoke ganja to pay homage to Shiva, a Hindu deity. The cultural significance embedded with cannabis has been seen as a provocation among the youths. Legalizing cannabis can put a dent in the people of vulnerable age groups. The illusory effect of marijuana can obstruct the intellectual and social growth of the individual. The nation will be at a loss if its youths are trapped in addiction, and there’s a high chance that the legalization of cannabis might expose them to uncontrolled uses, freeing themselves from their duties and responsibilities. 

In 2020, Birodh Khatiwada and 45 other lawmakers presented a bill to parliament demanding the legalization of cannabis. Nepal has been regarded as an agricultural country, but mostly we rely on foreign remittance. The lifting of the ban on cannabis can shift our economy, making it an agriculture-based economy as there’s a huge demand for cannabis in the global market. Cannabis carries a wide scope - from scientific and medical to research. If considered a cash crop and exported abroad, cannabis can aid the frail Nepali economy. Moreover, the tourists will flock to Nepal in the temptation of cannabis, just like they used to in the good old days - when hippies relaxed in the heart of Kathmandu, smoking ganja and wandering through the mystic alleys. 


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