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India has the potential to create billion dollar cannabis industry: Srijan Sharma at India Today Conclave

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By India Today Web Desk: Srijan Sharma, co-founder of ItsHemp, said that India has the potential of creating a billion dollar cannabis and hemp industry at the India Today Conclave Mumbai 2022 on November 5. The session titled, On a High: The Facts, Fallacies and Fears Around Cannabis and Hemp CBD Products, was also attended by Rohit Kamath and Loveena Sirohi, co-founders of India Hemp Organics, and Chirag Tekchandaney, co-founder and CEO of Bombay Hemp Company.

Srijan Sharma said that building a healthier plant with cannabis is the “dream we’re focussed towards.” “If we get good marketing, it will go from being the taboo plant to being the wonder plant real soon,” he said. He added, “Having a natural alternative to lifestyle disorders is paramount for any individual in India.”

Here’s all that’s happening at India Today Conclave Mumbai 2022

When asked about various Google searches about cannabis and if it will make people “high,” Chirag Tekchandaney said, “It’s been about the better part of the decade that I’ve been answering about – Will hemp get me high? We’re addressing something that’s taboo in this country, which is cannabis – one compound of it is hemp and the other is marijuana. The fundamental difference between the two is the compound in the plant called THC. It is the euphoric high that gets everyone intoxicated and hemp, specifically, has under 0.3% THC. When a plant contains 0.3% THC – whether it’s used for wellness, or nutrition, you make cookies out of it, and you can wear clothes out of it is legitimate. It will not make you high. From a nutrition point of view, it is known as a superfood. There are many uses that people have actually worked with on cannabis.”

Srijan Sharma, on selling T-shirts on which the words are written ‘I Sell T-shirts Made of Bhaang’, said cannabis is a case of “bad marketing and branding.”

“This is something I’ve said many times before as well. Cannabis is a case of bad marketing. It is the most popular plant and yet it is the most controversial plant as well. Some people talk about it as a plant that will get you high, others talk about it as medicine, food or clothing. In India, we popularly call it bhang, that is where ‘I sell bhaang as a living’ comes from,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it is a plant. You can call it magical or you can call it a drug, it depends on the people who are actually using the plant. We are trying to create something from this plant that not a lot of people are interested in as a commercial activity. Building a greener and healthier planet with cannabis is the dream we’re all focussed towards. If we get good marketing it will go from being the taboo plant to being the wonder plant real soon,” he added.

Srijan shared that “we’re living on a journey of cannabis where we need to educate, cultivate, and elevate the country. We want to live in an India where arthritis, brain cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease are all being cured in our own backyard, known as bhaang.”

Loveena, co-founder of India Hemp Organics, said that it is “the responsibility of us as an industry” to not make it a taboo and not to limit it to just recreational purposes.

“We form the social movement for medical cannabis as a plant in general. We have to drive forward to education that, yes it is a taboo in the country exists, yet we have to be well aware that this plant holds a long historical and cultural connection with us. We’ve been witnesses of so many patients who are benefitting from it. Are we going to recognise this one plant for the single use for recreational purposes? Or for its thousand plus uses where it can be useful for our farmers, the government and the economy as a whole.” she said.

Rohit explained how we can understand the use of hemp in today’s time. “If you look at it is like looking at a cat family. You have a lion, a tiger and a leopard — all of these are different species. Similarly, in hemp, you have one compound out of the thousand other compounds that makes you high, which is THC. Isolating that one compound, you have nothing else that is intoxicating in any nature. In fact, hemp can get you really high on nutrition and nothing else. It’s about creating the right regulations and rules to grow the plant in a way which is prescribed by the government. This is possible with the advancement of science that we have today,” he said.

Speaking about the various claims about hemp changing the world, fixing climate change and even replacing plastic, Tekchandaney said, “It’s important to put this down this way. There are five parts of this plant. One is the seed, one is the fibre, one is the leaf, one is the bud which is the cannabis flower, and then there is the resin from the flower. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 in India clearly demarcates that the seed, fibre and the leaf are all exempt form the bracketing of it as a narcotic.”

Adding that “growing hemp is a 90-100 day process. All of India has a weed crop-like hemp growing in its backyard. The farmer doesn’t have to do much. It is one of the most underutilised yet the most abundantly available fibre and seed in India at the moment. It grows 12-feet tall and it has 25,000 proven applications.”

He talked about the intrinsic use of hemp and said that apart from its medicinal properties, it is good for the soil too. “One of the best properties that hemp has is that it actually fixes the soil. When one wants to grow this plant in this country, one can grow it in alteration and not as a mainstay. In the next cycle of growing, it remediates the soil and makes it more fertile to grow the next season on. It soaks a lot of carbon dioxide and is really good for the planet,” he shared.

Srijan Sharma further spoke about hemp as a natural alternative to plastic. He said, “Hemp as a fibre is one of the longest fibres that is naturally occurring on the planet. The issue with the plastic industry is that we rely so much on petroleum that it is unsustainable. There’s a threat of microplastics. When we manufacture the same plastic with hemp, the process is similar to any other bioplastic – there are fewer microplastics that go in the environment. Hemp is abundantly available. It has a 120-day growth cycle, in a way it ensures that you have four times cycles on the same patch of land. It means you can have more plastic manufactured compared to what is being done,” adding that hemp can be used as paper and eliminate the cutting of timber from trees.

“You chop that tree to make paper. A tree takes 20-25 days to grow. The entire US declaration was written on hemp paper. Hemp takes four months to grow.,” added Rohit.

Chirag spoke about the value of hemp in India and how profitable it is as an industry both globally and in India. “Overseas and across the globe, the highest value that is grown across the globe has been from the wellness and medication applications from this plant. Hemp has made more than a billion dillars when this crop first belonged to the Himalayas. The world has harnessed this particular crop and made a billion dollar industry primarily in the medicinal and recreational spaces,” he said.

On how the hemp industry in India has become popular, he added, “Over the years, we popularised hemp as fibre and built out the textile value chain because India is innately a textile economy. We were able to do that. Thanks to the Ministry of AYUSH, the presence of Ayurveda, which spiritually, culturally and historically recognises it as bhaang – which is the leaf of the cannabis plant for 5,000 years. Ayurveda is not a reductionist science. It is a holistic science. It says you can use the plant in its entirety and make medicine of it. The whole pain segment, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, insomnia-related disorders, can all be cured with the hemp-based leaf product.”

Srijan enlightened how people can switch from the use of drugs to a natural substance which has the ability to cure various disorders. He said, “In India, there are over 400 menstruating women, there are 200,000 million chronic patients and 100 million high-stress employees and adding that India is one of the most depressed countries, with one in five people suffering from depression or anxiety, having a natural alternative to lifestyle disorders is paramount for any individual. Cannabis right now, with Ayurvedia, gives us that opportunity to work on mental problems like a legitimate natural solution. Instead of relying heavily on opioids or any sort of drugs, getting a natural, non-addictive solution to a lifestyle disorder is a game-player both commercially and humanely as well.”

Loveena answered a question about how hemp can be made more acceptable and ubiquitous in India. She said, “Cannabis is governed by the NDPS Act of 1985. India is one of the most federally legal countries in the world. Every state as the autonomy to make its own decision when it comes to governing the use, transport and medical consumption of cannabis as a plant,” adding that in the US, the national conversation about hemp has moved away from criminalising the plant to the consumption of it in small amounts and using it for public health.

“In India, there is a misconception that if we have a strict criminal law, it will hold us back from consumption. This conversation should be about the well-being of our people and today we have a moral obligation to put that into consideration. Irrespective of people consuming it or not, we need to focus on the welfare of people,” she said.

On dealing with government officials, Chirag said, “We used to take part at these flea markets. We started in 2013 as a company and the first time we exhibited hemp clothing or apparel and accessories, we saw the audience smelling the fabric who wanted to resonate with bhaag. Over the course, one of the first meetings we had was on the 7th of February in 2014 at the Revenue Ministry of Finance, we had to give them a lowdown on what the world has done with this crop. To our surprise, a lot of the officials knew a lot of what we were already presenting. We have to show them roti, kapda, makan all out of one crop, which is known as cannabis or bhaang in this. They were reciprocative to what we were asking for and that makes it conducive very thriving for the country.”

Srijan concluded that India, being one of the largest consumer markets in the world, is a set stage for a crop like cannabis which is indigenous to the country. “Even if we don’t have to go outside, even if we exclude exports for a while, we have this potential to create a billion-dollar market, considering that the Himalayas is one of the keywords in our industry. People who are interested in investing are huge outside India as well. India can be one of the world leaders in the cannabis and hemp industry,” he said.

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