Source– The post is based on the article “Why we must focus on curing, not criminalising drug users” published in “The Indian Express” on 6th May 2023.
Syllabus: GS2- Government policies and interventions. Issues related to development and management of social sector
Relevance: Drug abuse
News- There are reports that Himachal Pradesh is considering joining Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh as states that have legalised cannabis cultivation.
The production, manufacturing, possession, consumption, sale, purchase, transport and use of cannabis is prohibited and criminalised by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 1985.
What are issues with the current approach to deal with drug abuse?
Criminalisation is used to deter the use of drugs. However, drug dependence has increased over the years across the world.
In India, 3.1 crore people are reported to have used a cannabis product in the last 12 months and about 72 lakh people required help to address their cannabis dependency-related problems.
Criminalisation means long pre-trial incarceration and stigmatisation of users. They lack access to de-addiction centres.
The 2001 amendment to the law differentiates between those who possess a “small quantity” of the drug and those found storing it in “commercial quantities’ ‘. This is a welcome step in distinguishing between “drug users” and “drug traffickers”.
However, possession of the drug for personal consumption or consuming it for recreational purposes remains an offence under the Act. Such cases constitute 60% of the total NDPS cases reported in India .
People who end up in jail often belong to the socially and economically vulnerable class. They constitute the majority of the undertrial prisoners under the NDPS Act.
Putting drug users behind bars makes their rehabilitation difficult and exposes them to the risk of becoming peddlers.
Rehabilitation of drug users is systematically replaced by the denial of bail and enforcement of jail terms and penalties.
The bail provision of the NDPS Act makes jail a rule, and bail an exception. The moral panic in society relating to drug use and abuse has an impact on the pre-trial procedure.
The over-criminalisation of drug users undermines their social well-being. It results in the wastage of precious time of the criminal justice machinery.
What is the way forward to deal with drug abuse?
In 2021, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment recommended the decriminalisation of the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal consumption. Drug consumers should be treated as victims rather than culprits.
The Ministry also suggested mandatory de-addiction and rehab facility for 30 days followed by mandatory community service for one year for drug addicts. The ministry’s position was along the lines of the approach advocated by UN human rights experts.
There is a need to focus on a public health approach to deal with drug addiction. Countries such as Portugal and Canada have demonstrated the efficacy of the public health approach.
Law enforcement agencies view drug users as offenders, whereas the public health systems focus on their well-being.
In India, Sikkim has tried to tackle the drug problem by differentiating between peddlers and consumers. It has tried to advance healthcare services to the most vulnerable drug users. The state’s model of decriminalisation can be replicated at the national level.