Why India should Legalize Cannabis

 

No, readers. Here we are not going to talk about Aryan Khan case. I think it is a sheer waste of time. What the celebrities and their brat kids are doing is of least interest to me, and I am sure many of my readers share such sentiments.

Moreover, in India, there are thousands of other people who are charged under the same law. If we do not bother about them, why should we suddenly care about this particular case?

Here I will talk about NDPS Act in India and why India needs to reform this law. I think it is high time to legalize cannabis for better control of it, and for better utilization of police force in India. Legalizing cannabis in India can also be an effective way to bring underground drug economy to surface, which in turn can contribute towards curtailing many illegal activities including terror funding.

Types of Drugs

First let us understand what are the different types of drugs and what effect/s those have on physical and mental health of the victims. Depending upon the effect drugs have on a person, it can be categorized into five groups - Depressants, Stimulants, Hallucinogens, Opioids and Dissociatives.

Depressants impact body's central nervous system or CNS, and they slow down the messages between the brain and the body. They adversely impact victim's ability to respond to what is happening around him or her.

Stimulants on the opposite speed up the messages between the brain and the body. It makes the victims agitated and make them suffer from sleeplessness among many other effects. Hallucinogens change the victim's sense of reality. It can cause confusion, disorientation, dizziness, paranoia, panic attack. Opioids are powerful painkillers that produce a sense of well-being or euphoria, and trigger sudden mood changes in its victims.

Dissociatives distort the victim’s perception of reality. It inhibits pain by cutting off or dissociating the brain's perception of the pain. Regular usage of any of these types of drugs has the potential to cause severe addiction and also damage to the victim's health. Their prolonged use can even cause permanent damage to the victim's brain.

Vulnerable Geography

Now let us understand who supplies these drugs, what is volume of this illegal drug trade in India and how this business funds different illegal activities. One of the sources of these illegal substances are surprisingly 100 percent legal prescription drugs and their ingredients. There are many pharmaceutical opioids, such as methadone, pethidine, tramadol and fentanyl, which can be misused for the purpose of addiction.

Their easy access in unregulated pharmaceutical markets in India is a cause of worry that should be addressed by the Indian government on urgent basis if they are serious in handling the problem of drug abuse. As an example, quantities of tramadol seized increased markedly to a peak of over 125 tonnes globally, in 2017. However, global seizures of the same substance fell to 32 tonnes in 2018, when a new law regulating tramadol was adopted in India.

Apart from this, there is another factor going against India's fight against substance abuse. It is India's geographical location. There are three major suppliers of opium in the world - Mexico, Afghanistan and Myanmar. India is practically squeezed between two of these three nations, which account for roughly 96 percent of estimated global opium production.

The Nefarious Nexus

More than 40 percent of Afghanistan's agricultural land is used for opium poppy cultivation. Opium farming in Afghanistan shot up in the late 1970s, during war between the US and Soviet Union in that region. It was a major source of revenue for Mujahideens fighting against Soviet Union and later this lucrative business was taken up by Talibans in 1990s, which they are running till now.

As per a report, Taliban raked in 416 million USD during 2019-20 from selling opium. In one of the reports in 'The Economic Times' in September 2020, it described how Pakistan was sponsoring narco-terrorism as an asymmetric warfare against India. It is not only facilitating cross-border smuggling of narcotics into India, the revenue generated from it is directly funding different terrorist organizations.

As we have gone through the basics of different types of drugs, effect on its victims and mode of their trade, let us understand what NDPS or 'Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act' of 1985 does to contain drug abuse in India.

A Careless Act

The aim of the NDPS Act is to prohibit “the manufacture, production, trade, use, etc. of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances", except for medical or scientific purposes. Punishment for possessing small quantity of drugs may go up to 1 year of jail-term. Any amount more than the small quantity, but less than commercial level quantity may get 10 years of jail-term. Punishment for anything over that “shall not be less than 10 years but which may extend to 20 years". Biggest concern with this law is that unlike most other laws it shifts burden of proof on the accused. Innocent unless proved guilty is not applicable here!

The law does not even require personal possession of drugs during the arrest. It gives law enforcers lots of room to put up the charges against someone, and definitely gives ample opportunity to misuse the law. In 2019, 72,000 people were charged under this law and majority were personal consumers.

The main reasons why this law needs serious reform and why government should consider keeping cannabis out of this law are given here.

Firstly, this law was poorly thought-out and drafted hastily in 1985 under pressure from the United States. It puts drugs like marijuana that comes from cannabis plant in the same group along with hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth. However, here let me point out that there is no clear scientific demarcation between soft and hard drugs as all are harmful to varied degrees. But as research suggests, harmful effect/s of marijuana is/are lot less than heroine and as a matter of fact less than many alcoholic beverages too.

Clubbing cannabis with other more harmful and addictive drugs in India encouraged illegal drug trade to shift to hard drugs as risk of getting punishment is same whereas monetary gain out of heroin smuggling is lot more than that of cannabis.

Moreover, outright ban on all sorts of drugs encouraged underground drug peddling and siphoning of revenue into other illegal activities including terrorism.

Confused Priorities

Thirdly, this law creates huge pressure on the already strained law enforcement agencies in the country. Instead of running after large amount drug smuggling, our police force is many a time seen getting busy in catching personal consumers of cannabis and small-time drug peddlers. Not that these criminals (under the existing law) shouldn’t be booked but their catching shouldn’t get priority by our law enforcing agencies over big fish who are often seen conveniently escaping the clutches of law after doing irreparable damage to the society.

As per a study done in Europe, on an average, incarceration costs are 2 to 6 times bigger than the money spent for health and social services. Apart from that, a study done in Mumbai by ThePrint in 2020 shows that out of 10,669 cases from Magistrate Courts in Mumbai, 99.9 percent pertained to consumption of a narcotic substance. Out of that, 87 percent of the cases involved cannabis.

It proves that Mumbai police or its narcotics division basically spends majority of their time chasing after small cannabis consumers instead of focusing on large drug smugglers. When whole Indian media was busy covering Aryan Khan case, exactly during that time nearly 25 kg of heroin was seized from a container in Nhava Sheva Port in Navi Mumbai! We need to focus on right priority as no nation has infinite numbers of police force.

Adulteration and Stigma



Then the underground drug trade usually promotes unsafe practices during the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs. Uncontrolled and unmonitored substances are often adulterated that may pose major health risk, more than that from the drug itself. Readers may remember Bihar's hooch tragedy in November 2021 when 32 people died after consumption of adulterated alcohol as Bihar government banned all kinds of liquor few years back.

Criminalization of personal consumption puts stigma on the victims and alienation from the society. Instead of helping it causes hindrance towards the rehabilitation process among drug users. A criminal record poses serious challenges in various aspects of a person's future life even after the person is free from addiction.

So we understand why it is necessary to legalize less harmful drugs like cannabis in order to control the ogress of drug menace in India.

What the World Does?

Before closing this article, let us spend little time understanding what the rest of the world is doing with regard to legalizing cannabis. As of now, multiple countries have legalized cannabis for recreational use.

These countries include Uruguay, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and few others. Multiple states in the US have also allowed or at least decriminalized the use of cannabis, though it is still banned at the federal level.

Law differs from one country to another in various aspects like quantities allowed, public possession against personal cultivation up to a specific number of plants among different variations in the laws.

We will quickly look at Canada's example as this nation had legalized cannabis in 2018 and there are few reports available on its effect during the last three years. Canadian government had a number of goals while legalizing cannabis. Among them were to keep the drug out of the hands of youth, take profits away from criminals and to protect public health. Here are some observations on the result:

According to the Canadian Cannabis Survey 2020, only six to eight percent of Canadians reported obtaining cannabis from illicit sellers. This is definitely a good achievement. The study also found that illegal cannabis products were contaminated with microbes and pesticides.

According to the same survey in 2020, 27 percent of participants reported having used marijuana in the past year — an increase from 22 percent in the first cannabis survey conducted in 2017. There is an increase, but it is not alarming.

On average, in 2019, 6 percent of Canadians aged 15 or older reported using cannabis daily or almost daily; about the same level as 2018 (5.9 percent).

My Take

Let us close this article with my personal opinion. The more we try to control something or ban something, more we are basically pushing it towards underground economy and eventually more harm it will do to the society in the long-run.

But unlike many proponents of legalizing cannabis, I do not think government should let the private players run it freely.

It is estimated that world cannabis market will go up to 15.8 billion USD by 2027. However, we should not legalize cannabis in order to get larger pie of this market and encourage consumption of it. Rather we should strive to reduce the consumption of cannabis in India through sustained public awareness campaigns.

Hence, even after legalization, cannabis trade should not be run as private profit-making businesses in India, which would encourage private enterprises to make more and more Indians addicted to cannabis in order to boost their profits. Government should have strict control over cannabis trade and preferably run it as private-public partnership.

Profits should be invested for rehabilitation of the drug victims, healthcare of them, and finally for dissemination of information among the mass to discourage them from using any kind of drugs, including cannabis.

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There is a YouTube Video on this topic. Readers are encouraged to view it as well.



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