New Delhi: In an attempt to help the victims of drug abuse to come out of addiction, the Narendra Modi government is planning to decriminalise personal consumption of small quantities of drugs including cannabis, narcotics and psychotropic substances.
The recommendations in this regard arrived at a high-level meeting on 10 November at the Prime Minister’s Office with top officials from the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Home Affairs, Narcotics Control Bureau, Social Justice Ministry and health ministry.
The recommendations made by the various ministries are likely to be considered and included in the draft of an amendment bill that could be presented in the upcoming Parliament session, sources said.
The proposal is to fine-tune the decriminalisation of personal consumption by amending Section 39 along with concomitant amendments in sections 15,17,18,20,21 and 22 of the Narcotic, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 which deals with procurement, consumption and financing of drugs.
“There was a meeting that was held and all key stakeholders discussed the proposals in great detail. The idea is to reform the act and moreover encourage rehabilitation. Not all proposals were agreed upon but a general consensus has been reached,” a source in MHA said.
What the proposal says
According to the proposals made by the Ministry of Social Justice, the Act should not only talk about replacing “consumption” with “other than personal consumption (in small quantity)” but also remove the word “addict” and replace it with “person with substance use disorder”.
Sources in the government said this will make a clear distinction between the person who is in possession or using the drug, whether it is for personal consumption, which will be a small quantity or it is for commercial use.
“This will help decriminalise personal consumption and will help courts take a more lenient view on people caught with small quantities,” a source in the NCB said.
It was also proposed that the word “possess” shall be replaced by “possesses more than small quantities”, to clarify that the person has intermediary or commercial quantity of drugs. Also, the word “uses” can be replaced by “other uses than for personal consumption”.
“This will make a clear distinction between the person who is in possession or using the drug, whether it is for personal consumption, which will be a small quantity or it is for commercial use. This will help decriminalise personal consumption and will help courts take a more lenient view on people caught with small quantities,” a source in the NCB told ThePrint.
The matter was taken up in the wake of the recent cases involving actor Rhea Chakraborty and Aryan Khan — both of whom were charged with the consumption of drugs.
‘Decriminalization critical step’
In relation to poppy straw, opium, cannabis, psychotropic substances and other drugs and narcotics, where the contravention involves small quantity and possession is solely for personal consumption, it is proposed that a mandatory admission at a government-run or supported rehabilitation or de-addiction center be encouraged.
“Drug decriminalization is a critical step towards achieving a rational drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration,” said a senior official from the health ministry.
“The UN has supported decriminalizing drug possession for personal consumption and in small quantities. 28 countries across the world have decriminalized possession with sanctions such as fines, redirection to educational and social centers. This has helped in reducing hindrances for people to access healthcare, harm reduction and legal services,” he added.
Removal of word ‘addict’
While talking about procurement of drugs, a proposal has been made to replace “dealing in any activities in” with “deal”, for better clarity.
“Dealing in any activities has a very broad interpretation and encompasses all the activities including those which are not commercial in nature,” said a senior government official referring to the proposal which is under discussion.
“Dealing in can be substituted with ‘deal’ as it has a specific meaning of ‘doing business—especially buying and selling. This will remove the vagueness around the term,” according to the proposal.
A major change proposed is the removal of the word “addict” and the addition of the definition of “person with substance use disorder”. The justification is that addict or addiction is the most severe form of substance abuse which carries a negative connotation and image of the user.
“Instead the terms such as ‘person with substance use disorder’ can be used which can help in reducing the stigma associated with the disorder and help people reach out for treatment,” it says.
Mandatory treatment for de-addiction
According to the proposal which is being examined in cases where a person has been found to have consumed or is in possession to consume any narcotic or psychotropic drug shall mandatorily be taken to the nearest health facility for assessment and de-addiction for 30 days.
Presently, undergoing medical treatment for de-addiction is voluntary.
“Medical treatment for de-addiction must be a mandatory practice for a person involved with a small quantity of substances. This will help in the rehabilitation process and redirect the person’s energies to more productive activities and is likely to wean them away from the habit of the substance,” the proposal says.
“A minimum period must be prescribed so that the person goes through the complete cycle of detoxification which is between 21-20 days,” it adds.
It was also proposed that Section 27 (b) — which says that in case a person does not volunteer for treatment, the punishment shall be fine which may extend to Rs 10,000 with mandatory social work for one year in a govt supported or run center — shall be deleted completely.
“This is because the government is trying to reform the act by making treatment for those in need a mandate and common practice rather than voluntary. Counselling and taking consent is a general practice before admission of a person for treatment in government run de addiction centers,” the proposal says.