Cannabis in Sri Lanka

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Cannabis in Sri Lanka is legally sold through Ayurveda herbal shops, and can be used for medical and scientific purposes if given a license by the Ministry of Health.[1][2]

The term 'kansa' is used to refer to the plant as a whole, while 'ganja' is used to refer to the flowering head.[3] It is estimated that there are currently about 600,000 users of cannabis who tend to come from higher socio-economic stratum, and the most common method of consumption was 'chasing the dragon' (the Chinese method).[4]

Cannabis plays a major role in the traditional culture of the island, with the specific Sinhalese or Sanskrit names virapati (“hero-leaved”), capta (“light-hearted”), ananda (“bliss”), trilok kamaya (“desired in three worlds”) and harshini (“the rejoicers”) indicating its various properties, such as inducing euphoria and heightening sexual energy.[4]


Recreational Medicinal Cultivation
Ayurvedic Yes[5] Government license required

The Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of 1935 criminalised cannabis. [4] An amendment to the law means that cannabis is not criminalised for medical purposes.[6]

The Ayurveda Act (Act No. 31 of 1961 as amended by Act No. 5 of 1962) allows ayurvedic physicians to obtain opium and cannabis for manufacture of their medicinal preparations.[4]

The main aim of local police in dealing with cannabis has been about vendors who sell to minors or have positioned themselves near minors (such as at a school). Possession of less than 5 kg of cannabis is treated as a minor crime with fines or short jail sentences. Sri Lanka's Prison System actively tries to rehabilite drug users[3]

The Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation (Ministry of Health) is the only legal source for cannabis on the island, and it mostly obtains the drug from police raids on illegal shipments. The only practitioners that are legally allowed to sell the drug are Ayurvedic ones, of which there are estimated to be around 16,000 practitioners.[4]

Medical Cannabis[edit]

"Hemp" is legally allowed to be used on the island as a herb. The colonial law criminalising cannabis has been amended to ensure that nothing "shall affect the lawful import, export, supply, manufacture, use, or possession of galenical preparations (extract and tincture) of the hemp plant".[7] Cannabis is not criminalised for medical purposes.[6]


Cannabis was historically traded by the Arabs along the southern Silk Trade Route as early as the 13th century.[3] Hemp was found in Sri Lanka at least as early as the 17th century, when Fernão de Queyroz observed: "there is little hemp, because only a little of it is cultivated."[8]

The Colonial Dutch criminalised narcotic trafficking in 1675, though by 1860, long after the island fell under British control, cannabis was widely produced throughout the island and the country formed the production line for the opium that was exported to China.[citation needed]

In 1867, the British colonial government introduced the Opium and Bhang Ordinance, restricting the sale of cannabis to licensed dealers only.[9][10]

In 1897, the import of bhang or ganja was banned.[8]:194 In 1905, the British colonial government introduced the Indian Hemp Ordinance, which in its 1907 version punished` producing, importing, or distributing "Indian hemp" to a 100-rupee fine and up to six months' imprisonment.[11]

The Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of 1935 criminalised cannabis.[4]

In 2008, the Minister for Indigenous Medicine sought limited legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes. The new officeholder in 2013 likewise proposed to amend the Ayurveda Act to recognise the value of cannabis.[12]

In 2017, Sri Lanka announced the intent to create a 400–hectare cannabis plantation near Ingiriya, to provide cannabis for Ayurvedic practitioners, and potentially for export of cannabis remedies to the United States. Currently, Ayurvedic practitioners obtain legal cannabis from the government as a windfall from seized illegal cannabis, which is often poor quality and old by the time it reaches them.[13]

Further reading[edit]

  • The Use of Opium and Bhang Spreading in Ceylon, Especially in Colombo: and the Need for Specially Restricting the Sale. Being Letters and Articles Reprinted from the "Ceylon Observer.". "Ceylon Observer" Office. 1893.


  1. ^ C. G. Uragoda (2000). Traditions of Sri Lanka: A Selection with a Scientific Background. Vishva Lekha Publishers. ISBN 978-955-96843-0-5.
  2. ^ Marijuana Should be Allowed; Sri Lanka Indigenous Medicine Minister Says :: NIDAHASA News,, 2 July 2009, retrieved 2011-02-17
  3. ^ a b c "Cannabis in Sri Lanka". Sensi Seeds Blog. 2014-10-27. Retrieved 2018-09-22.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "UNOCD Regional Profile" (PDF).
  5. ^ "Getting High And Low In The 'Mal' Capital". Colombo Telegraph. 2014-06-18. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
  6. ^ a b "Getting High And Low In The 'Mal' Capital". Colombo Telegraph. 2014-06-18. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
  8. ^ a b C. G. Uragoda (1987). A history of medicine in Sri Lanka from the earliest times to 1948. Sri Lanka Medical Association.
  9. ^ United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (1989). Drug control in Asia. UNAFEI. p. 128.
  10. ^ C. G. Uragoda (1987). A history of medicine in Sri Lanka from the earliest times to 1948. Sri Lanka Medical Association. p. 192.
  11. ^ Ceylon (1907). The Acts of Ceylon. Government Printer. pp. 465–.
  12. ^ "Bill On Marijuana To Parliament | The Sunday Leader". 2013-12-15. Retrieved 2016-12-28.
  13. ^