How to do drugs right

India's repressive narcotics law has not served its own ends

Recently, two states in the US, Washington and Colorado, liberalised their narcotics laws and decriminalised recreational marijuana. Marijuana for medical use has been legal for a while in 18 US states. This is a big step, even though the federal government is trying to override these laws with its own court rulings. India though, is years away from even a debate on these lines — though our repressive position on narcotics has clearly not served us.

India's strict narcotics laws have been ineffective. Supply and demand for all narcotic and synthetic drugs has risen rapidly after the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) (1985). All the police does is arrest the most defenceless in the drug chain — drug users, and those who sell small quantities to pay for their addiction.Over the last 10 years, Punjab made 55,867 arrests, of whom 25,003 were sentenced. In Delhi, of the 4,155 arrested, 2,052 were sentenced — of whom only 103 were traffickers and couriers and the rest were addicts or peddlers. Those who are arrested live on the streets and those who consume at home get away. Can the authorities jail all Punjab's users, estimated at 72.5 of the youth by Guru Nanak Dev University's department of sociology?

Of course, some voices, demanding extraordinary liberalisation of laws, can be discounted. For instance, Virender Kashyap, BJP MP from Shimla has repeatedly demanded that the profit-oriented opium cultivation in the state be legalised. This demand was last raised by MPs from Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal two years ago, but it was rejected.

However, it must be remembered that opium cultivation was legal in Himachal Pradesh and what is now Uttarakhand until 1961. Then, the headquarters of the Central Bureau of Narcotics shifted from Shimla to Gwalior. An out-of-touch bureaucracy declared this cultivation illegal. Opium growers ignored that diktat. Despite the stringent NDPS Act, demand for opium has increased steeply in the last 15 years, and illicit cultivation has enriched its farmers. Opium is also grown, illegally, in six districts of Arunachal Pradesh, where it has been traditionally grown for centuries, primarily for the personal use of the cultivators, usually poor. To contain this practice, the government should revive the Opium Registry System, by which registered addicts were officially given opium through their state governments. This would prevent illicit cultivation, which haphazard eradication has not been able to achieve in three decades.

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