Avoid prison for drug addicts, seizure of small sums: Ministry of Social Justice

In its suggestion to revise the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), the Union’s Department of Social Justice and Empowerment recommended a more humane, prison-avoiding approach for drug and drug addicts. .

In a recommendation sent out a few days ago, the ministry called for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal consumption. He suggested changes to the NDPS law to treat those who use or depend on drugs as victims, who should be referred for detox and rehabilitation, not sentenced to prison.

Last month, the Ministry of Revenue – the nodal administrative authority of the NDPS law – had asked several ministries and departments, including the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Justice and the ‘Empowerment, the Narcotics Control Bureau and the CBI, to suggest changes to the law, if any, along with their rationale.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has sent its suggestions to the Ministry of Revenue in this regard.

Explain

According to the norms

The ministry’s position is in line with recommendations from the International Narcotics Control Board, which says that criminalizing drug use only perpetuates stigma and can make the problem worse. The Council is an independent quasi-judicial body responsible for the implementation of the United Nations drug control conventions.

In India, the consumption or possession of drugs is a criminal offense. Currently, the NDPS law only takes a reformist approach towards drug addicts. It grants drug addicts (or dependents) immunity from prosecution and imprisonment (if convicted) if they volunteer for treatment and rehabilitation. However, there is no relief or exemption provision for, say, novice or recreational users.

For example, section 27 of the NDPS Act provides for a prison term of up to one year or a fine of up to Rs 20,000, or both, for the consumption of any narcotic or psychotropic substance. It makes no distinction between drug addicts, first-time users and recreational users. This is one of the provisions for which the ministry has proposed that the prison sentence and fine be replaced with compulsory treatment in government-run rehabilitation and counseling centers, for at least 30 days.

Section 27 has been used in several high-profile cases, the most recent being the arrest of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan in an alleged drug seizure on a cruise ship.

In the case of the sections dealing with the punishment for possession of various drugs and psychotropic substances, the ministry suggested that the law exclude from prison sentences those captured with “small quantities” (intended only for personal consumption). Compulsory treatment in government centers was also recommended to them.

Small quantities under NDPS means quantities less than those specified by the Union government by notification to the Official Gazette. For example, the government has set the limit of 100 grams for a small amount of cannabis and 2 grams for cocaine.

The NDPS was developed in 1985, taking into account India’s obligations to United Nations conventions. The law prohibits the trade, production, use and possession of drugs and psychotropic substances for any purpose, except for medical and scientific reasons. However, cases of possession for personal consumption or cases of drug use constitute the majority of NDPS cases. According to a study published by the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy last year, 97.7% of NDPS cases in Maharashtra in 2017 and 97.3% of cases involved in 2018 were those of “possession for personal consumption”.

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