Making a case for decriminalisation

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Making a case for decriminalisation

2021-12-15 11:24:58

The story to date: Within the backdrop of a number of high-profile instances below the Narcotic Medication and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act), the Central Authorities just lately convened an inter-departmental assembly to re-evaluate it. As per stories rising from the assembly, the Central Authorities, primarily based on the suggestions of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, is contemplating amending the NDPS Act to decriminalise the possession and consumption of small portions of medicine.

State coverage of controlling drug commerce and utilization has historically been punitive in nature for the reason that utilization of medicine is handled as a prison regulation subject. This method traces its roots again to the U.S.’s stance of pursuing a worldwide ‘warfare on medicine’, first declared within the Seventies by President Richard Nixon. India, below the affect of Nixon’s coverage and in recognition of its worldwide obligations to discourage drug commerce and utilization, enacted the NDPS Act in 1985.

THE GIST

  • The Central Authorities just lately convened an inter-departmental assembly to re-evaluate the NDPS Act. Based mostly on the suggestions of the MSJE, the Centre could amend the NDPS Act to decriminalise the possession and consumption of small portions of medicine.
  • Underneath the NDPS, any one who consumes or possesses a narcotic substance may be sentenced to imprisonment and the imposition of fines. Regardless of over 35 years of the Act being in drive, the variety of individuals depending on medicine has exponentially elevated over the previous few years.
  • If the regulation is amended, substance use shall be tackled as a public well being concern. It will promote different methods akin to de-addiction and rehabilitation.

What does the Act stipulate?

The NDPS Act is an umbrella laws coping with the management and regulation of narcotic medicine and psychotropic substances. If the regulation is amended to decriminalise small drug offences, it can depart from the method of concerning drug utilization to be a prison exercise and concentrate on tackling it as a public well being concern. Due to this fact, because the Authorities actively considers decriminalisation below the NDPS Act, it is very important perceive the advantages of selling different methods to cut back demand, akin to de-addiction and rehabilitation over criminalisation.

At current, below the NDPS, any one who consumes or possesses a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance may be sentenced to imprisonment and be slapped with financial penalties. The NDPS Act offers a restricted avenue to courts of regulation to exempt an ‘addict’ from going through imprisonment in case they volunteer for remedy at a de-addiction centre. No such exemptions are offered to first-time or leisure customers. Furthermore, regardless of over 35 years of the NDPS Act being in drive, its enforcement mechanisms have solely been capable of train restricted management over the drug market in India. Actually, the variety of individuals depending on medicine has exponentially elevated over the previous few years. In line with a report revealed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment titled ‘Magnitude of Substance Use in India’, as of 2019, there have been about 6 crore drug customers in India (from an earlier estimated 1.1 crore customers in 2004). Of them, about 1.7 crore individuals required skilled assist to cut back their dependence on medicine. In the identical report, the Ministry notes that criminalisation of drug utilization by the NDPS Act has solely enhanced societal stigma, isolation, and hindered entry to remedy.

Although tackling the availability facet of medicine to curb entry will doubtless have a larger affect in controlling the drug menace, prosecution companies have prior to now continued to focus on individuals possessing medicine for private use or consumption. In line with statistics launched by the Nationwide Crime Data Bureau, over 60% of the entire instances registered below the NDPS Act between 2018 and 2020 have been for possession of medicine for private use or consumption. These numbers spotlight the ineffectiveness of a prison deterrence coverage, envisaged below the NDPS Act, to deal with drug use.

What can India be taught from Portugal?

Because the Union Authorities now seems to take a optimistic step of transferring away from a punitive framework and think about the decriminalisation of possession or consumption of small portions of medicine, it may borrow from Portugal’s experiences within the area. In 2001, Portugal, after affected by one of many worst drug epidemics in Europe, was the primary nation to shift to a coverage of decriminalisation, eliminating prison costs for possession and consumption of medicine for private utilization. This shift was in recognition of the inefficacy of prison penalties to discourage substance abuse. As per the Portuguese laws, individuals caught with lower than a 10-day provide of any drug are usually not topic to the prison justice system. As an alternative, they’re required to look earlier than a panel, comprising a health care provider, psychologist, and social employee, which determines appropriate sanctions, starting from fines to neighborhood service. The panel additionally has the facility to find out whether or not a person must be despatched to a de-addiction centre for rehabilitation.

The ripple results of the Portuguese mannequin of decriminalisation have been important. For example, the variety of individuals who have been admitted for remedy for substance abuse elevated by 63% between 1998 and 2008. It is because entry to de-addiction services turned simpler, because of lowered worry of prison sanction. The drug-induced dying price in Portugal, which was earlier larger than the European Union common, additionally plummeted to a stage 5 occasions decrease than the EU common. In recognition of the success of the Portuguese mannequin, the UN and the WHO have advocated for nations to repeal punitive legal guidelines regarding the use and possession of medicine for private use.

What are the benefits?

Decriminalisation has a number of benefits, together with selling higher entry to remedy services, in addition to offering a breather to the Indian prison justice system, at present clogged with instances involving small portions of medicine. As a corollary, it will enable the State to focus its assets on the prosecution of individuals concerned in large-scale trafficking and manufacture of medicine, in addition to management clandestine earnings related to unlawful drug commerce – the raison d’être behind the historic warfare on medicine.

Sahil Raveen and Shaileja Verma are attorneys primarily based in New Delhi

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