The UN Commission on Narcotic Drug, in a historic vote on December 2, removed cannabis and cannabis resin from the 'most dangerous substances' category. Total 27 member states, including India, the US and EU countries, supported the move, while 25 nations including China, Pakistan and Russia voted against it. After the vote, cannabis has been removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where it was listed alongside deadly, addictive opioids, including heroin.
The UN vote was hailed by cannabis proponents across the world. In India, sale and consumption of cannabis is banned under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. However, the law does not prohibit the use of its seeds and leaves if mixed with other vegetation. This has given rise to cannabis or hemp-based food and personal care product industry. Start-ups are now coming with innovative products that are healthy as well as organic. Rohit Shah, Co-founder & CEO, Hemp Horizons, spoke to BusinessToday.In on India's cannabis industry and the likely impact of the UN vote on it. Here are the excerpts:
What's your reaction to historic UN vote and India's support for it?
It's a welcome step forward. WHO, UN and the world at large now recognise the medicinal and therapeutic effects of the plant. About India's support for this, I think the country has always recognised its medicinal properties; cannabis or hemp is being used in various shapes and forms in India since ancient times. For it, this could mean policy changes in terms of isolation and treatment of the plant.
Can BJP-led government's push for Ayurveda be one of the reasons behind India's support at UN?
Absolutely, we have seen companies in India now that are doing a lot of research on medical cannabis. There are already research and commercial cultivation policies in place in states like Uttarakhand and UP.
What should the government do to bring about a fundamental policy change?
The government should bring in a change in terms of constituting a regulation body around cannabis or hemp. And the committee will have to understand not just the historic relevance of cannabis but also its importance in modern times. Our company and hundreds of other start-ups are elated over the fact that this vote will break the stigma around cannabis and change the thinking that it is just to get 'high' or for recreation.
What was your idea behind Hemp Horizons in a country where marijuana is illegal?
The idea was to bring back the nutritional and medicinal benefits of the age-old plant backed with modern science. 'Bhang' is one of the five sacred plants in our 'Vedas'. It was one of the key ingredients in a plethora of Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddhi medicines. We wanted to shatter the stigma around it by manufacturing quality products that are healthy as well organic, all within the legal framework.
What are your top-of-the-line hemp products in the market right now?
Sativa hemp nubs (shelled hemp seeds), Sativa hemp powder (hemp seed powder), Sativa hemp oil are the best sellers. We offer a wide variety of hemp-based oil, soap, body wash, face cream products.
Where do you see your company in the next 3-5 five years?
We are expanding our product-line by launching 5-7 new products. After the UN vote, we see a significant change in awareness on how the plant is perceived by the community. We could even see some policy changes on ground. India will definitely move towards a society that can harness the medicinal benefits of cannabis in future.
Why should one go for cannabis-based products?
Hemp is an ancient plant that has a long history of use throughout the world. It is revered for its numerous health benefits and is well-known for its therapeutic and medicinal properties. A popular myth that needs to be busted is that hemp and marijuana are the same. They are not! Although both belong to cannabis family, hemp does not contain the psychoactive effects like its sibling marijuana. One cannot get high by consuming or applying hemp-based products because hemp seeds have only 0.3% THC, which is a very less amount. In fact, hemp seeds are proven to be a super-food that can boost our immunity and do wonders for our health. Hemp gives us two-fold benefits. It strengthens our immune system and helps fight immunity-related diseases or conditions. Hemp seed extracts have compounds like DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and healthy fatty acids. These are widely known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-damage and anti-oxidant properties.
How easy is it to get necessary equipment to make hemp-based products in India?
When we entered the industry, there was hardly anyone manufacturing hemp seeds-based products. Local manufacturers didn't understand it. We had to perform a lot of research but fortunately, we're able to customise our machines. As the industry grew, we see a lot more manufacturers understanding the technicalities of the processes. India also has a rich pharma industry and some machines can be picked and customised if one knows what they are looking for.
What's your revenue model?
In the past four years of our existence, we have focused on building a steady supply chain. This combined with our in-house manufacturing and packaging capacity of over 15 tonnes a month, has given us the ability to establish us as a D2C brand. We also help young entrepreneurs with white labelling solutions to brand and sell their products. We are seeing a surge of brands coming into the space. Every brand is unique in its own way. Since April, we have seen over 10 similar brand launches in India.