KIRANCHOK, NEPAL — If Mahesh Tamang were to grow vegetables on his 6 ropani (three-quarter-acre) farm in rural Dhading district, he’d have to lug the produce to a market an eight-hour hike away.
But because he is growing cannabis, he says, buyers from the cities come to him. For the past seven years, his family of six has lived off the 200,000 rupees (about $1,865) per year that Tamang earns from the cannabis he grows.
“There is not any other source of income,” says Tamang, who asked that his real name not be used because of his illegal activity.
It’s been illegal to grow cannabis in Nepal since the Narcotics Drug Control Act passed in 1976, but it’s a common crop for farmers in many rural areas. Nimesh Mishra, an officer in the Narcotics Drug Control Section in the Ministry of Home Affairs, says cannabis farmers have been active in Nepal for centuries, fueling traditions and cultural practices that rely on the plant. Devotees of the Hindu god Shiva, for example, are known to smoke marijuana as part of their worship.
Anyone caught consuming even a small amount of cannabis faces jail time, and the penalties go up from there. Fines can reach 25,000 rupees ($230) for anyone found cultivating more than 25 cannabis plants. In lieu of a fine, such offenders face prison terms of three years.
Police have combed the country to rid it of cannabis, Mishra says. Between 2013 and 2016, they destroyed more than 40,200 kilograms (88,625 pounds) of the plant in various forms.
In early January, police discovered and destroyed about 1,200 kilograms (2,645 pounds) of cannabis at a single farm in Dhading district, says Dipendra Panjiyar, the district’s deputy superintendent of police.
Panjiyar says that many farmers who are informed about the negative health effects of cannabis switch to cultivating wheat, millet and other crops.
But, Tamang says, those crops require constant labor, unlike cannabis.
“Cannabis does not need to be cultivated every year, like vegetables,” he says. “There is no need of hard work.”
Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.