Decriminalisation of Narcotics & The Dawn of the Future

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the acquisition, possession, and use of small quantities of all psychoactive drugs, and thus became the first country to do so. The factors that lead to such regulation were increasing HIV cases and other problems, due to the new and extensive introduction of marijuana and other narcotics. Surprisingly, the change in the law regarding the use of drugs appears associated with a marked reduction in drug trafficker sanctioning. While the number of arrests for trafficking changed little, the number of individuals convicted and imprisoned for trafficking since 2001 fell nearly 50 per cent. The Strategy noted that maintaining criminal sanctions was justified regarding the cultivation of drugs for consumption because cultivation dangerously aligns with trafficking. The National Strategy led to the approval of Law No. 30 of November 29, 2000, which defines the legal regime applicable to the use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and the health and social protection of people who consume such substances without a prescription[1]. For addicted as well as non-addicted users, the right to make any decision rests with the commission established. It is authorized to impose sanctions or reprimand as alternatives to fines, and order the drug user to provide compensation or public service.

Whereas, in the Netherlands, the regulations categorized narcotics in two categories - “hard drugs” and “soft drugs”, and sentences and punishments are listed accordingly. The term “drugs” includes drugs and preparations[2]. The country puts its focus on harm reduction rather than the suppression of the use of drugs. The majority of the nations that decriminalized drugs, did that for small quantities only, which allowed consumers, or any person caught with that “small quantity” to not be prosecuted. These regulations did not bring much difference to the illegal prospect involved with the term “drugs and psychoactive substance” which involves a focus on supply reduction. The interesting perspective for the Netherlands is that although it is illegal to sell and buy soft drugs, the “coffee shops” remain exempt from such legislation. The normalisation of the taboo regarding drug users and psychoactive substances is necessary to be brought out before imposing any legislation. Due to this, things like the overuse of drugs, infections, etc., keep happening because there is no common understanding, general knowledge or information, available for drug users and their surrounding people. People already, under the addiction of drugs, find it hard to find the right way and hence leads to normalisation of the wrong ways which then become set patterns, thus increasing the risk they pose. Innovations and research can also play an important role and it is also exemplified by Switzerland and its drug regulations. Society support is also necessary to sustain and maintain social innovations. Rational use depicts decreased risks in comparison to its conversion into a need and thus, reckless addiction.

Marijuana and hemp are the commonly excused drugs as they pose little to no harm in comparison to other “hard drugs”. Also, the purpose of medicinal and scientific use is exempted but has some specific rules such as having to obtain government permission.

Switzerland suffered grossly for the upliftment of the drug usage especially due to heroin consumption leading to the “heroin epidemic”. This made it concerningly important and called for immediate action to destroy the “bazaar of the bizarre” [3]and thus was invented the approach with a combination of social, medical, and legal help.

Prevention, Treatment, Harm Reduction, Law Enforcement

This model of working was researched and widely appreciated as it emphasized various levels of starting of the problem. This approach brought a change in the perspective of the citizens of Switzerland and enhanced cooperation among the citizens, in combating the ill effects of drugs and their impact on people.

Major concerns for nearly every country regarding drugs include deteriorating public health, increased crime rates, and deaths, risks posed by certain potentially harmful, infectious, and highly addictive drugs, illegal trafficking of narcotics, etc. Thus, the legislations are also focused upon these areas. With specifics attributed to India, domestic legislations were introduced in consonance to the obligations to the signed UN conventions. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 is the basic legislation that regulates and describes laws regarding prosecuting drug use, possession, manufacturing, purchase, and sale. The Act covers three broad class of substances:

1) narcotic drugs which include Cannabis, Cocaine, and Opium;

2) psychotropic substances;

3) “controlled substances” that are used to manufacture narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances [4].

The fact that all major regulations in various countries attribute the punishments and fines upon discovering certain amounts of narcotic substances. The rigorousness of punishments and fines depends upon the amount of substance found with a person, if a person possesses small quantities, he/she can be subjected to lower sanctions or even dismissal in some countries like Portugal, but if discovered with large quantities which are usually above 250g, they are convicted for greater punishments. The classification of drugs goes in consonance with the quantity for the decision of punishments and fines, for example, if a person is caught with 0.1g of LSD, the punishment will be highly rigorous despite the quantity being less, in comparison to other drugs like Opium. Though these factors are necessary the mere presence of drugs with a person should not be the basis for conviction as there are other vital considerations like the motive and role of the offender should also be considered and not regarded as irrelevant. The distribution and possession amount to nearly the same convictions, which make it likely for an unfair accusation towards the possessor of drugs. Death sentences also form a part of punishments in certain countries for the crime of importing or exporting high quantities of drugs illegally. Although regulations have been brought about in various countries, the majority of the world has criminal impositions.

It is unbelievable yet true that the minimum prison sentence for rape and that for being caught with 100g of cocaine is the same, that is 10 years. This is sufficient to conclude that it is unfair and ignorant in both ways that this is the truth because in no way is possession of cocaine or embezzlement of opium even by a licensed farmer more heinous than committing rape. Hence, it is time to reevaluate rather than impose harm reduction and awareness must be spread so that work is done on the grassroots level of drugs and not punishments when it reaches its apex. Balance is the threshold of solution whereas imposing control turns out to be divergent. It is not wrong to say that Indian and other societies, ponder upon the normalisation of the concept of drugs and not consider it a subsequent form of untouchability, because if the support of the society can help implement Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, then it can definitely, support the youngsters by making them aware and also listen to them because the major reasons behind drug consumption are attributed to psychological and emotional problems. On the other hand, the base which forms the drug market, the production of psychoactive substances in the area requiring major sanctions and licensing along with impositions for the limited quantity of production. The convergence of balances in both areas is likely to have a positive impact.

The most disturbing factor usually is the number of deaths which makes the issue even more concerning. As per a December 2019 revised data, illicit drug use is responsible for over 750,000 deaths per year. These include indirect deaths i.e., premature deaths from a disease or injury that are independently amounting to 585,000 deaths, and direct deaths from drug overdoses or dependency, independently amounting to 166,000 deaths. It is estimated that around 1% of the world has a drug use disorder whereas, the US had the highest overdose rates from all three leading illicit drugs: opioids, amphetamine, and cocaine [5].

There are serious consequences for the part of the population involved with drugs because addiction to anything is harmful and addiction to drugs is a major problem. The decriminalization of narcotics with certain checks and balances can fortify the concept of the evolution of the outlook or general social narrative towards “drugs” and other psychoactive substances. The approaches are formed upon a similar issue but have to be altered as per every country’s social beliefs and economic situations. By permitting lesser amounts for personal and recommended use of drugs, the authorities can ensure the doors of illegal consumption are being approached by lesser people. Either way, it has become a necessity for curbing the situation faced in India regarding narcotics and other psychoactive substances. With the help of sustainable approaches that can also be inspired from other countries, it should be focused towards bringing into effect, policies aimed at social betterment related to narcotics because unawareness and improper knowledge in combination with psychoactive substances are deteriorating the bedrock of the nation, the youth, and therefore nearing us into the dawn of the future, of the citizens and the whole nation.

[1] drugpolicyfacts.org, https://www.drugpolicyfacts.org/region/portugal#:~:text=%2DRelated%20Problems.%22-,European%20Monitoring%20Centre%20for%20Drugs%20and%20Drug%20Addiction%20(2019)%2C,of%20the%20European%20Union%2C%20Luxembourg.&text=%22The%20most%20recent%20general%20population,by%20MDMA%2Fecstasy%20and%20cocaine, (last visited Mar.9, 2021). [2] Benjamin Dolin, National Drug Policy: The Netherlands, NATIONAL LAW POLICY: THE NETHERLANDS, (Mar.9, 2021, 9:30 PM), https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/371/ille/library/dolin1-e.htm#B.%20%20Goals%20and%20Objectives . [3] Miriam Wolf and Michael Herzig, Inside Switzerland’s Radical Drug Policy Innovation, STANFORD SOCIAL INNOVATION REVIEW (Jul.22, 2019), https://ssir.org/articles/entry/inside_switzerlands_radical_drug_policy_innovation. [4] indiananoon.org, https://indiankanoon.org/search/?formInput=narcotics%20+doctypes:laws, (last visited Mar.9, 2021). [5] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, Opioids, cocaine, cannabis and illicit drugs, OUR WORLD IN DATA (Apr.18, 2018), https://ourworldindata.org/illicit-drug-use.

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