My next few days in Rasol are spent talking with the local farmers and families. I am almost the only outsider up here now. During the summer months and the harvest season, there are more visitors but even then, it’s only the most dedicated smokers that make their way up here.
It’s a wonderful time to sit and listen to the stories of the old days and how they feel things are changing. In recent years there has been a steady increase in police activity. It seems largely linked to the growing Indian tourism and the spike in social media stories and blogging within India. The Parvati valley secret is out, and it has forced the authorities to act.
That action seems mostly confined to the occasional police foray up the mountains to make a token effort to destroy the cannabis fields. An effort which seems pointless when you see the scale of growing that is going on here. The locals also don’t believe that the police really want to stop their cultivation as most of the police are locals themselves and understand the difficulties that the farmers are dealing with up at these altitudes. Cannabis is really one of the only viable crops here and the tourism that the resulting harvest brings into the valley is the only source of income for most of the people living here.
There are busts on the way out of the valleys but again these seem restricted to catching the larger scale smuggling operations. Tourists, both western and Indian are pulled of buses and searched but I had only heard stories of confiscation and some small-scale bribes being paid when the amounts found were clearly personal.
The laws only changed regarding cannabis in India in 1985 after a 25-year period of gradual adoption, a relatively recent change in legality in the global context. It means that most of the older generation grew up with legal cannabis cultivation and they certainly don’t believe that cannabis is a harmful drug. In fact, quite the opposite. Here the most damaging drug is alcohol. There is a fair amount of alcoholism here which spikes in the villages after the harvest is over and people have spare money. It’s heart-breaking to see and has reached such a problematic level that some villages are taking matters into their own hands and banning alcohol all together.
The secret code for an additional entry in the competition is 107908.
In fact, India’s cannabis laws are a mess, edibles are seemingly legal throughout the country with government licenced bhang (cannabis smoothie) shops all over the place but I heard of cafes being hassled for selling space cakes and cookies. ‘Sadhu’ followers of Shiva are immune from police action and can and do smoke openly wherever they want and there is in fact at least one state ‘Odisha’ which has extremely vague definitions of legality and as such it has led most to presume that cannabis is legal there.
There is a legalisation movement here, but it is struggling to gain traction politically. Just like in other countries, politicians here play political football with controversial topics and as such cannabis has been dragged into partisan squabbling.
For now, the Parvati valley seems fairly protected from outside political and legal interference, partly by local tradition and pride of communities and partly by the sheer geographic of the area. Having hiked up to several the larger cultivation areas here and having seen the physical state of most police in India I doubt that they would find it possible to make a dent in the harvest.
It is also worth pointing out that Parvati is only one of hundreds, possibly thousands of huge cultivation areas in the Himalayas. It just happens to get all the attention. So even if the Government decided to have a major crackdown here it would have a negligible effect on total production and just pushes the profits into mafia pockets rather than local communities.
If India was to legalise, with their historic use and understanding of cannabis farming techniques paired with the scale of production already taking place I have no doubt that India would become one of the leading producers in the world.