- This article highlights the need for advancing health care services for drug users rather than criminalizing them.
Cannabis and its usage in India
- Cannabis is a generic term used to denote the several psychoactive preparations of the plant Cannabis sativa. The main active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol).
- The Mexican term ‘marijuana’ is frequently used in referring to cannabis leaves or other crude plant material in many countries.
- Cannabis is by far the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused illicit drug.
- Uttarakhand became the first State in the country to legalize cannabis cultivation in 2017.
- Other States such as Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have legalized cultivation and harvest of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
- Himachal Pradesh is considering legalizing the cultivation of cannabis.
Health effects of cannabis use
- Cannabis impairs cognitive development (capabilities of learning) including associative processes.
- Cannabis impairs psychomotor performance in a wide variety of tasks, such as motor coordination, divided attention, and operative tasks of many types.
- Heavy cannabis consumption is associated with a higher prevalence of symptoms of chronic bronchitis
Therapeutic uses of cannabinoids
- Therapeutic effects of cannabinoids includes its usage for nausea and vomiting in the advanced stages of illnesses such as cancer and AIDS
- Treatment of asthma,glaucoma and as an antidepressant, appetite stimulant etc
- Oil extracted from cannabis is known to be useful in strengthening nerves and treating people suffering from paralysis.
NDPS Act and criminalisation of drug users
- The production, manufacturing, possession, consumption, sale, purchase, transport and use of cannabis is prohibited and criminalized by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 1985.
- The 2001 amendment to the law differentiates between those who possess a “small quantity” of the drug (drug users) and those found storing it in “commercial quantities”. (drug traffickers).
- However, possession of the drug (for personal consumption) or consuming it for recreational purposes remains an offense under the Act.
- Criminalisation was intended 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.
Adverse effects of criminalisation
- Criminalisation means long pretrial imprisonment and stigmatization of users.
- Majority of the undertrial prisoners under the NDPS Act who end up in jail often belong to the socially and economically vulnerable class
- Putting drug users behind bars makes their rehabilitation difficult and exposes them to the risk of becoming traffickers.
- They lack access to de-addiction centers.
- The over-criminalisation of drug users undermines their social well-being.
- It also overburdens the criminal justice machinery and adds to the workload of the overworked investigating agencies.
- It results in wastage of Public resources which would otherwise have been deployed to set up a robust rehabilitation network.
Measures to decriminalize drug users
- In 2021, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment recommended the decriminalization of the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal consumption to treat drug consumers 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.
- However, in Parliament last year, the government reversed its opinion on decriminalizing personal consumption of drugs.
- Focus on public health approach
- Law enforcement agencies view drug users as offenders, whereas the public health systems focus on their well-being. However in India the rehabilitation of drug users is systematically replaced by the denial of bail and enforcement of jail terms and penalties.
- It’s high time for India to take lessons from countries such as Portugal and Canada that have demonstrated the efficacy of the public health approach.
- Adopt Sikkim model
- 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 decriminalization can be replicated at the national level.