In defence of Nepal’s ‘miracle plant’

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - The increased production of cannabis, particularly as an industrial fiber, will help create thousands of jobs and inject life into rural economies

Last month, I met with a German traveller named Lukas Hinkelmann who spoke of a miracle plant that he claimed could bring Nepal into in economic and developmental renaissance. Stifled only by policy, Lukas claimed that this plant could lift Nepal up to become a ‘Switzerland of Asia’. What was this plant? Cannabis.

Lukas is an advocate for marijuana policy reform and owns a hemp product business based out of Berlin that cooperates with micro-enterprise development programmes in Nepal. Last year, he spent several months travelling around Nepal to meet with growers, suppliers, and craftsmen who work with the plant to get their perspective on how expanding hemp production could lead to an economic boom in the country. He spoke of the plant with eyes filled with genuine hope and vouched that it could really save the country.

“It is truly one of the greatest gifts that the universe has given us,” said Lukas. “Cannabis is environmentally-friendly and one of the lowest-maintenance species of plants that humans cultivate, and yet, from it we can derive everything we need: health foods, fabrics, paper, rope, biodegradable plastics, oils, construction materials, medicines and even biofuels.”

In Western countries such as the United States, the recent push for marijuana legalisation has been driven,in large part, by individuals who wish to use the plant as a drug and those who wish to put an end on America’s ‘War on Drugs’, which is draining the US economy and leads to the arrest of millions of US citizens every year. (The US currently has the largest incarceration rate in the world, with more than one in 100 American adults behind bars.)

Though incarceration is not as big a problem in Nepal, individuals like Lukas feel that increased production of cannabis, particularly as an industrial fiber, could hold the potential to create jobs that would lessen the problem of Nepali workers having to find work abroad, inject life into rural economies, and decrease dependency on India and China for material imports. “People have to wake up and see that everything they need in this country is right here,” said Lukas. “There is an alternate way where Nepalis wouldn’t have to leave their families to work in other countries to survive. It’s just a matter of people opening up their eyes and using what they have.”

Countries around the world are beginning to reawaken to the commercial and environmental values of the plant. China is a stark example, now being the world’s second largest producer of hemp after France.

The industrial qualities of the plant have been recognised by the global automobile industry and are now used in composite panels of cars made by a variety of manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Honda, Lotus, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Volvo, and Volkswagen. Industrial potential has been further recognised in building materials such as the insulation material ‘hempcrete’.

Though some might be against an increase in cannabis production out of fear that it will increase the amount of drug users in Nepal, cultivars of the cannabis plant that are used for hemp production are bred to contain only negligible percentages of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) to satisfy the UN Narcotics Convention, and such plants can be treated categorically different from drug crops entirely.

Cannabis use, both as an industrial fiber and as a recreational drug, has a history in Nepal that spans back for centuries; and it was only recently that the stigma and restrictions on the plant came to pervade the country. In 1976, the Nepal government passed laws that treated cannabis as a narcotic and banned its cultivation and recreational use. This was largely a reaction to pressure applied by the US-government, out of concern that its own citizens were being lost to the growing hippie movement in Nepal at the time.

Now, nearly 40 years after this policy was enacted, marijuana is being widely decriminalised throughout the US and many are starting to believe that it is “high time” that Nepal reformed its own policies.

Overcoming the social stigma that makes politicians and social activists apprehensive to speak out in support of reforming these laws remains a challenge, but it is not insurmountable, according to Lukas. “Criminalising cannabis in Nepal was a simple solution to a foreign problem, but now Nepal has the chance to shake off these policies so that the country can flourish. This will take active effort from politicians and a shift of public attitudes, but if people do the research they will find that this is a logical path that can help lead Nepal to become the prosperous nation that it should be.”


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