Lawmakers in Nepal have filed a proposal in Parliament to legalize cannabis, decades after marijuana was outlawed in the Southeast Asian nation at the urging of Western countries including the United States. The proposal was made by Birodh Khatiwada, a lawmaker and member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party from the country’s Makawanpur district.

Makawanpur is one of the country’s biggest producers of illegal marijuana, which was banned in 1973 with the passage of the Narcotic Drugs Control Act in response to pressure from the United States and other nations. Cannabis users can be sentenced to up to a month in jail, while traffickers face prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Claiming that as many as 65 countries, including the United States, Canada, and Germany have since legalized cannabis, Khatiwada said it is time for Nepal to follow suit.

“Legalizing marijuana will help the poor farmers and since most of the Western world, which was reason for making it illegal in the first place, have already ended the prohibition, Nepal should also lift the ban,” said Khatiwada.

Hippie Destination for Hash

Nepal has a tradition of cannabis cultivation and use that goes back centuries, coming to its height of notoriety in the 1960s with the emergence of the hippie culture, which prized the local handmade version of hash known as charas. After prohibition, however, the government canceled all licenses for cannabis growers, dealers, and shops, driving the industry underground. Illicit cultivation has continued and cannabis is openly smoked at the yearly festival for the Hindu god Shiva, which takes place later this month.

Khatiwada’s proposal, which was made in the country’s House of Representatives late last month, has received support from 45 fellow members of the Nepal Communist Party. The lawmaker said that cannabis is suited to the country’s climate and mountainous terrain and would provide an economic opportunity for rural farmers that would help improve their standard of living.

“Marijuana has multiple uses. It also helps earn foreign currencies and produce medicines,” Khatiwada said.

The proposal to legalize cannabis is supported by several influential members and former leaders of the Nepal Communist Party, including Janardan Sharma, Pampha Bhusal, former speaker Onsari Gharti, and former deputy speaker Purna Kumari Subedi. Before it can take effect, however, it must be debated by the government and approved by Nepal’s two houses of Parliament. Gokul Baskota, the country’s Minister for Information and Communications Technology, said that the government has not yet taken any steps to approve the proposal.

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