Change the outdated, punitive drug law

In response to an official consultation last month by the department of revenue – the nodal agency for the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act – the social justice ministry has reiterated the suggestions it had made in its landmark 2019 report, ‘
Magnitude of Substance Use in India‘. These include decriminalising possession for personal consumption, and treating users, especially addicts, with a rehabilitative, not punitive, approach. They should be heeded.

As investigators from the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims), stated in the 2019 report, ‘People affected by drug use are one of the most marginalised and underserved populations. It is hoped that this report provides strategic directions, to find ways to help save and improve their lives.’ The NDPS Act itself came into being in 1985 after GoI was arm-twisted to align with the Reagan era’s politically motivated (and ineffective) ‘war against drugs’ via the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This, despite India’s traditional tolerance for drug consumption at par with the West’s permissiveness for alcohol use. Coupled with a Victorian stigma towards recreational drug intake – with the ingrained usage of ‘abuse’ and Orientalist suspicion towards ganja-imbibing sadhus and fakirs – the West foisted its own phobia on a laissez-faire India.

The social justice ministry’s suggestions should be adopted, as is happening elsewhere in the world, not just to help celebrities from overzealous authorities, but to also implement, as the 2019 report says, ‘evidence-informed policies and strategies to address the challenges posed by drug use’.


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