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DRUG POLICY IN INDIA: COMPOUNDING HARM?

THE BECKLEY FOUNDATION DRUG POLICY PROGRAMME

Molly Charles, Dave Bewley-Taylor and Amanda Neidpath

The Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme (BFDPP) is a new initiative dedicated to providing a rigorous
independent review of the effectiveness of national and international drug policies. The aim of this programme of
research and analysis is to assemble and disseminate material that supports the rational consideration of complex drug
policy issues, and leads to more effective management of the widespread use of psychoactive substances in the future

INTRODUCTION
Contemporary international drug policy seeks to control
both the demand and supply of drugs through the
criminalisation of production, trafficking and use.
Furthermore, adherence to the United Nations drug
control conventions ensures that most nation states adopt a
similar prohibition-oriented approach when formulating
national drug control legislation. Recent research suggests
that this can be problematic in some Asian countries where
longstanding cultural sanctions already existed for drug use;
particularly those involving psychoactive plant products
such as cannabis and opium.
With its focus on India, this briefing paper examines the
impact of the punitive approach towards drugs in those
societies and communities that have traditionally exerted
socio-cultural controls over the use of mind-altering
substances. The discussion highlights the unintentional but
often harmful consequences of such drug control policies.
In framing the discussion of this topic, it is important to
note that the socio-cultural context of traditional drug use
within many Asian countries means that experiencing an
altered state of consciousness is only a part of the drug
taking experience and not the ultimate goal of users

Indeed, norms controlling excessive and regular drug use
have customarily governed socially and culturally accepted
consumption of native mind-altering substances.
While such traditional use management strategies vary
across Asian countries, it is possible to identify similarities
that exist between these approaches to drug use and
contemporary interventions that collectively fall within the
so-called harm reduction paradigm. The defining feature of
harm reduction programmes is their focus on the
prevention of harm rather than the prevention of drug use
itself.
It can be argued, therefore, that as signatories to the 1961
UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, many Asian
countries have been required to move away from
longstanding approaches to control customary drug use. In
many respects, there has been a subsequent shift from
traditional drug use management to an emphasis on
eradicating all drug use and trade. The implementation of
law-enforcement-dominated policies has generated a tense
relationship between contemporary legislation and
culturally ingrained drug use patterns and associated
management strategies

This situation is compounded by changing patterns of drug
use within India. This is the result of a number of inter-
related factors; the rising popularity of new non-traditional
forms of drug use introduced via tourism; urbanization; and
leakage from illicit drug production in the region. Indeed,
evidence suggests that changes in policy may have
contributed to increases in the use of harder forms of drugs
and more harmful modes of consumption, notably drug
injecting. Such a change in user behaviour is particularly
significant given the role played by injecting drug use in the
transmission of HIV/AIDS and other blood borne
infections. The management of this issue has become a
cause for concern within the field of drug demand
reduction and has serious implications for the development
realities of many Asian countries.
History
The use of the cannabis plant for a variety of purposes has
long existed in India (Charles et al, 1999; Charles, 2001), a
fact also noted for many other countries of Asia (Li Hui
Lin, 1975; Martin 1975, Fisher, 1975; Khan et al 1975 and
Charles, 2004).
Its use for medicinal reasons, as well as its mind altering
capacity, is significant. Cannabis has been used along with
other ingredients to treat rheumatism, migraine, malaria
and cholera; to relieve fluxes; facilitate surgical operations;
to relax nerves; restore appetite; for general well-being; and
it is also considered beneficial for the functioning of the
heart and liver. Additionally, the cannabis plant provides
food grain, oil seed and fibre for manufacture of fibrous
products in select parts of India.
The practice of using cannabis to alter consciousness and as
part of religious and shamanistic rituals has also existed in
India for centuries. For example, the drug has a strong
religious association as a gift from Lord Shiva to his
followers.
Opium has also been used for socio-cultural reasons in
different parts of the country (Chopra et al, 1990), with
medicinal use being more prevalent than cultural use, like
that seen among the Rajputs in Rajasthan and Gujarat
(Masihi et al 1996).
Prior to the introduction of contemporary drug control
legislation, a system for procuring opium and cannabis
through legal outlets existed. However, drug control
initiatives put in place procedures that made it difficult
to obtain these substances. Legislation in 1985 and 2001
include provisions for medical use, but there has been a
trend not only to reduce the quantity released by the
government, but also to tighten up procedural
regulations for obtaining the drugs by traditional

medicinal practitioners. The resulting inability to source
sufficient licit opium and cannabis for traditional use has
forced such practitioners to make purchases from the
expanding illegal market.
Socio-Cultural Controls
Until the 1980s cannabis consumption does not appear to
have been regarded as an issue of major social concern in
India, with little or no official mention of excessive use.
Prevalent socio-cultural regulations with regard to the form
of use, mode of consumption, context of use and profile of
users, ensured a system of use management that limited
drug use within the country.
For instance, norms restricted the use of cannabis and
opium to the adult male population. In the case of cannabis,
this is a pattern documented in a number of countries
including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, China,
Nepal and Pakistan. Even among the male adult
population, there were restrictions on the context for
consumption, with sanctioned use often linked or limited to
specific religious and social occasions.
In India and Nepal, the use of cannabis appears to be linked
to religious festivals like Shivaratri, Krishna Ashtami (birth
of Lord Krishna) and participation in bhajan sessions.
Indeed, occasions like Holi, ‘the festival of colours,’ are not
complete without the sharing of bhang – a drink made with
cannabis. At such select occasions, women and youngsters
were permitted to use bhang and other items made from
cannabis, including snacks, sweets and curry. Opium is also
offered at the harvest festival in a ceremony called akha
teej, intended to strengthen family marital clan bonds and
put aside old feuds.
It is this specification regarding the profile of users and a
desire for cultural confirmation that ensured the existence
of mechanisms to control drug use. The provision made for
women and children to consume cannabis products in select
cultural contexts and in specified forms indicates a strong
cultural acceptance for cannabis within India. Norms
reaffirmed the cultural dimension of cannabis use and
probably prevented excessive non-cultural use of cannabis.
As noted earlier, the adherence to cultural norms on
sanctioned use emerged from a strong association of
cannabis with Lord Shiva. For example, Sadhus (hermits) of
various sects who primarily worship Lord Shiva make use
of the drug for strengthening their concentration and
spiritual search.
Prior to smoking cannabis, the sadhus praise their Lord and
take it in his name, a pattern of consumption seen also
among lay followers. During Shivaratri, the distribution of

Page 1
THE BECKLEY FOUNDATION
DRUG POLICY PROGRAMME
BRIEFING PAPER TEN
OCTOBER 2005
DRUG POLICY IN INDIA:
COMPOUNDING HARM?
Molly Charles, Dave Bewley-Taylor and Amanda Neidpath
INTRODUCTION
Contemporary international drug policy seeks to control
both the demand and supply of drugs through the
criminalisation of production, trafficking and use.
Furthermore, adherence to the United Nations drug
control conventions ensures that most nation states adopt a
similar prohibition-oriented approach when formulating
national drug control legislation. Recent research suggests
that this can be problematic in some Asian countries where
longstanding cultural sanctions already existed for drug use;
particularly those involving psychoactive plant products
such as cannabis and opium.
With its focus on India, this briefing paper examines the
impact of the punitive approach towards drugs in those
societies and communities that have traditionally exerted
socio-cultural controls over the use of mind-altering
substances. The discussion highlights the unintentional but
often harmful consequences of such drug control policies.
In framing the discussion of this topic, it is important to
note that the socio-cultural context of traditional drug use
within many Asian countries means that experiencing an
altered state of consciousness is only a part of the drug
taking experience and not the ultimate goal of users.
Indeed, norms controlling excessive and regular drug use
have customarily governed socially and culturally accepted
consumption of native mind-altering substances.
While such traditional use management strategies vary
across Asian countries, it is possible to identify similarities
that exist between these approaches to drug use and
contemporary interventions that collectively fall within the
so-called harm reduction paradigm. The defining feature of
harm reduction programmes is their focus on the
prevention of harm rather than the prevention of drug use
itself.
It can be argued, therefore, that as signatories to the 1961
UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, many Asian
countries have been required to move away from
longstanding approaches to control customary drug use. In
many respects, there has been a subsequent shift from
traditional drug use management to an emphasis on
eradicating all drug use and trade. The implementation of
law-enforcement-dominated policies has generated a tense
relationship between contemporary legislation and
culturally ingrained drug use patterns and associated
management strategies.
The Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme (BFDPP) is a new initiative dedicated to providing a rigorous
independent review of the effectiveness of national and international drug policies. The aim of this programme of
research and analysis is to assemble and disseminate material that supports the rational consideration of complex drug
policy issues, and leads to more effective management of the widespread use of psychoactive substances in the future.
Page 2
2
This situation is compounded by changing patterns of drug
use within India. This is the result of a number of inter-
related factors; the rising popularity of new non-traditional
forms of drug use introduced via tourism; urbanization; and
leakage from illicit drug production in the region. Indeed,
evidence suggests that changes in policy may have
contributed to increases in the use of harder forms of drugs
and more harmful modes of consumption, notably drug
injecting. Such a change in user behaviour is particularly
significant given the role played by injecting drug use in the
transmission of HIV/AIDS and other blood borne
infections. The management of this issue has become a
cause for concern within the field of drug demand
reduction and has serious implications for the development
realities of many Asian countries.
History
The use of the cannabis plant for a variety of purposes has
long existed in India (Charles et al, 1999; Charles, 2001), a
fact also noted for many other countries of Asia (Li Hui
Lin, 1975; Martin 1975, Fisher, 1975; Khan et al 1975 and
Charles, 2004).
Its use for medicinal reasons, as well as its mind altering
capacity, is significant. Cannabis has been used along with
other ingredients to treat rheumatism, migraine, malaria
and cholera; to relieve fluxes; facilitate surgical operations;
to relax nerves; restore appetite; for general well-being; and
it is also considered beneficial for the functioning of the
heart and liver. Additionally, the cannabis plant provides
food grain, oil seed and fibre for manufacture of fibrous
products in select parts of India.
The practice of using cannabis to alter consciousness and as
part of religious and shamanistic rituals has also existed in
India for centuries. For example, the drug has a strong
religious association as a gift from Lord Shiva to his
followers.
Opium has also been used for socio-cultural reasons in
different parts of the country (Chopra et al, 1990), with
medicinal use being more prevalent than cultural use, like
that seen among the Rajputs in Rajasthan and Gujarat
(Masihi et al 1996).
Prior to the introduction of contemporary drug control
legislation, a system for procuring opium and cannabis
through legal outlets existed. However, drug control
initiatives put in place procedures that made it difficult
to obtain these substances. Legislation in 1985 and 2001
include provisions for medical use, but there has been a
trend not only to reduce the quantity released by the
government, but also to tighten up procedural
regulations for obtaining the drugs by traditional
medicinal practitioners. The resulting inability to source
sufficient licit opium and cannabis for traditional use has
forced such practitioners to make purchases from the
expanding illegal market.
Socio-Cultural Controls
Until the 1980s cannabis consumption does not appear to
have been regarded as an issue of major social concern in
India, with little or no official mention of excessive use.
Prevalent socio-cultural regulations with regard to the form
of use, mode of consumption, context of use and profile of
users, ensured a system of use management that limited
drug use within the country.
For instance, norms restricted the use of cannabis and
opium to the adult male population. In the case of cannabis,
this is a pattern documented in a number of countries
including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, China,
Nepal and Pakistan. Even among the male adult
population, there were restrictions on the context for
consumption, with sanctioned use often linked or limited to
specific religious and social occasions.
In India and Nepal, the use of cannabis appears to be linked
to religious festivals like Shivaratri, Krishna Ashtami (birth
of Lord Krishna) and participation in bhajan sessions.
Indeed, occasions like Holi, ‘the festival of colours,’ are not
complete without the sharing of bhang – a drink made with
cannabis. At such select occasions, women and youngsters
were permitted to use bhang and other items made from
cannabis, including snacks, sweets and curry. Opium is also
offered at the harvest festival in a ceremony called akha
teej, intended to strengthen family marital clan bonds and
put aside old feuds.
It is this specification regarding the profile of users and a
desire for cultural confirmation that ensured the existence
of mechanisms to control drug use. The provision made for
women and children to consume cannabis products in select
cultural contexts and in specified forms indicates a strong
cultural acceptance for cannabis within India. Norms
reaffirmed the cultural dimension of cannabis use and
probably prevented excessive non-cultural use of cannabis.
As noted earlier, the adherence to cultural norms on
sanctioned use emerged from a strong association of
cannabis with Lord Shiva. For example, Sadhus (hermits) of
various sects who primarily worship Lord Shiva make use
of the drug for strengthening their concentration and
spiritual search.
Prior to smoking cannabis, the sadhus praise their Lord and
take it in his name, a pattern of consumption seen also
among lay followers. During Shivaratri, the distribution of
Page 3
3
cannabis drink and other products is perceived as a way to
strengthen the association with the Lord. It is likely that
such a relationship played a major role in restricting its use
within India and Nepal, despite easy availability and local
cultivation. The drug’s connection to Shivaratri almost
certainly limited its use beyond the ceremonial context.
Unlike cannabis, opium does not appear to have any
significant religious associations, but even here the link
between cultural identity and the consumption of opium
acted as a strong mechanism to restrict consumption of the
drug in excess. Studies conducted into opium use in
Rajasthan and Gujarat indicate strong links between
cultural and caste membership, and use of the drug.
An opium drink can be used to greet guests to social
functions that include marriage celebrations, sealing a
business deal or mourning the demise of a relative. In this
case, culture permits opium consumption in the male adult
population but, unlike with cannabis, there is no specific
cultural sanction for women and youngsters to use the
substance except for medicinal purposes.
Such sanctioned cultural use, and its occasion or context,
produces a situation within which a drug’s mind-altering
properties are not the sole focus of the practice. For
example, in consumption during a celebration or get
together, songs and social interaction form the binding
force for consuming the substance. Consumption of bhang
during Holi calls for community participation from the
decision to prepare the drink, through to making it, and
finally its consumption in a group setting.
The pattern of consumption for smoking cannabis and
opium also restricts drug use, because as a group activity
the users only inhale a few times from the pipe. Moreover,
smoking the pipe is but a part of social interaction and not
the sole activity of the group. Sharing the drug is also not
the result of any economic consideration as is sometimes
seen in the case of heroin (Charles et al, 1999).
Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic
Substances Act (NDPS) 1985.
Prior to the present drug control legislation, the focus of
Indian drug policies was control of the drug trade and the
collection of revenues through licensed sales (Hasan, 1975).
The change in policy direction had much to do with India’s
international commitments. As a signatory to the UN 1961
Single Convention, India, like many other nations, was
obliged to eradicate culturally ingrained patterns of drug
use, including those involving cannabis and opium

Indian delegations at the UN had long objected to a
proposed policy of international cannabis prohibition, but
had “made little headway against the massive,”
predominantly Western and US-led, “anticannabis bloc.”
(Bruun, Pan and Rexed, 1975). Yet, in order to gain
widespread acceptance, the final draft of the Single
Convention included transitional reservations allowing so-
called grace periods for phasing out traditional drug use.
This meant that the “quasi-medical use” of opium had to be
abolished within 15 years of the Convention coming into
force. Similarly, the non-medical or non-scientific use of
cannabis was to be discontinued as soon as possible, “but in
any case within 25 years” from the date the convention
came into force (United Nations 1972). Referring to
cannabis, one expert has commented that it was a rather
optimistic timetable when “matched against three thousand
years of use by untold millions” (see Bewley-Taylor, 2001).
In political terms, any moves to phase out cultural drug use
within India were problematic, since it was difficult for any
party in power to tamper with popular religious and
cultural feelings concerning the use of opium and cannabis.
Consequently, mindful of international obligations
regarding the UN grace period and the political sensitivity
of the issue within the country, the NDPS Act was quietly
put on to the statute books with little national debate
(Charles et al, 1999). The only provision for non-medical
cultural use within the 1985 Act was that drinks made from
cannabis leaves were to be sanctioned (Britto, 1989).
As such, the legislation made many traditional forms of
drug use a criminal act that could be punishable by
imprisonment. Some of the significant measures taken
under the NDPS Act (1985) include:
• For the consumption of substances such as narcotic
drugs or psychotropic substances or any other substance
specified by the Central Government, the punishment is
imprisonment for a term, which may be extended to one
year, or a fine, which may extend to twenty thousand
rupees, or both.
• In the case of consumption of cannabis products other
than bhang, imprisonment may be for a term of six
months, or a fine which may extend to ten thousand
rupees, or both.
• The quantity specified for various substances that
could lead to arrest for trading in drugs was not very
large. For example, 250 milligrams of heroin, five grams
of opium, five grams of charas or hashish, 500 grams of
ganja (marijuana) and 25 milligrams of cocaine (NDPS
Act, 1985)

Evidence suggests that, in largely ignoring the socio-
cultural context of traditional drug use, the NDPS Act led
to a significant increase in the arrests of low-level drug
users. Arrests under the Act in 2001 totalled 16,315, of
which around 76 per cent (12,400) were prosecuted and 28
per cent (4,568) convicted. A study undertaken in the same
year in Tihar jail provides an insight into the make-up of
such figures. Interviews with 1,910 individuals arrested
under the NDPS Act (1985) indicated that around 325 (17
per cent) were arrested under Section 27 (Seethi, 2001).
This refers to the possession of small quantities of drugs
meant for personal consumption. While the law has
provision for such arrestees to seek treatment instead of
serving a sentence, the provision is rarely utilised
(Annuradha, 1999).
Research also shows that many of those arrested on drug
charges spent years in jail before their cases came up for
hearing (Annuradha, 2001; Charles et al, 1999). This was a
result of the notoriously slow pace of the Indian judicial
system. In some instances, it has meant that those caught
with small quantities of drugs were eventually acquitted
after spending years behind bars. Beyond concerns about
the obvious injustice of such cases, prolonged prison time
for low level drug offenders also raises the issue of
recruitment by criminal groups. A recent study on
organised crime in Mumbai suggests that prisons in India,
as in many other parts of the world, are ideal places for
orienting vulnerable individuals into the world of crime
(Charles et al, 2002).
Changes in patterns of drug use
The convergence of a number of important structural
changes, at both national and international levels, around
the time of the NDPS Act (1985), impacted on long-
standing patterns of drug use within India.
Research suggests that tourism has contributed to a
diversification of drug use patterns. In the mid and late
1970s, exposure to other cultures in both Nepal (Fisher,
1975) and India produced new forms of drug taking
behaviour. Since the early 1980s, most major Indian cities
have been introduced to new “foreign” drugs such as
heroin. The interaction of young Indians with tourists has
also facilitated an alteration in the relationships they later
form with those drugs traditionally consumed (Charles et
al, 1999, Charles, 2001). This is seen in all parts of the
country, although the process is more gradual in rural areas.
Such a rural-urban split can be explained by the impact of
urbanization upon traditional patterns of drug use and
management. Put simply, urban communities do not tend
to adhere to traditions to the same degree as those in rural
areas. Furthermore, the relatively easy availability of a

“foreign” drug like heroin, in comparison to opium, within
the urban setting contributed to a shift in the drug of
choice. As such, data from 16,942 drug users as part of the
Drug Abuse Monitoring System reveal that, other than
alcohol, there is significant variation in drug use patterns
between urban and rural areas. With regard to heroin, for
example, 14.9 per cent of users were from urban areas with
nearly half that figure (7.9 per cent) being from rural areas
(Siddiqui, 2002). The shift to heroin is also more likely to
take place in urban settings that fall along the illicit heroin
trafficking routes from South West and South East Asia.
Indeed, the illicit drug trade has a significant, although
complex, impact on drug use patterns within many parts of
India. Shifts from opium to heroin use can be seen to
depend on a number of inter-related factors. These include
proximity to areas of illegal cultivation and processing,
traditional regional drug use patterns and geographic
accessibility. For example, there is illicit poppy cultivation
in the North Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Nonetheless, in a state with a history of cultural opium use
and, due to the densely forested nature of the terrain,
limited connectivity with the surrounding areas, drug use is
limited to opium (Narcotics Control Bureau Report, 2001).
In other parts of North East India (especially Manipur,
Nagaland and Mizoram), circumstances are different,
however. The combination of the easy availability of
heroin from Myanmar and absence of cultural use of opium
in these regions resulted in the emergence of heroin use. In
the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh
there is a history of cultural opium use with the demand
long supplied by diversion from licit cultivation. A study
in Rajasthan in 1989 indicated that drug use was largely
limited to opium and cannabis. Nonetheless, recent
research shows that in the mid-1990s there was a shift from
traditional drugs to heroin. It is significant that this change
took place at a time when there was an increase in the illicit
heroin traffic to India from Afghanistan via Pakistan
(Charles, 2004).
Evidence suggests that the new legislation exacerbated the
problems arising from such structural changes. For
example, far from reaching its goal of eradicating drug use,
enforcement of the NDPS Act (1985) appears to have
inadvertently facilitated a shift to harder forms of drugs and
riskier modes of consumption.
The impact of the legislative changes was initially felt in
urban areas in the 1990s, especially the major cities (Charles
M, Nair K.S., et. al, 1999). As a result of the factors
discussed above, hard drugs seem to have found a niche in
many cities. An official study showed that of those drug
users seeking treatment, significant numbers were using
heroin, opium and the narcotic analgesic, propoxyphene
(Siddiqui, 2002)

Another study among opiate users in fourteen sites across
India indicated the primary substance of abuse was heroin
followed by buprenorphine, a synthetic opiate. From the
total sample of 4,648 drug users, around 43 per cent had
injected drugs at some time. In many cases, the drug of
choice was buprenorphine followed by heroin and
propoxyphene. Among the injectors around 51 per cent in
Amritsar (in the State of Punjab) were found to have shared
needles at some time, with 15 per cent from Hyderabad,
New Delhi, Dimapur, Trivandrum and Chennai reporting
the same practice. The conditions for widespread
transmission of HIV and other infections through drug use
are therefore increasingly present in India.
It is possible to see that the shift in patterns of use is not
only from traditional drugs to derivative drugs but also to
synthetic products as well (Kumar, 2002). A 2004 study on
the illicit Indian drug trade indicated that increasing
controls over poppy straw used in the preparation of opium
drinks is creating a shift towards synthetic opiates (Charles,
2004). This is a dangerous trend considering that the
morphine content in poppy straw is very low.
Given the cultural acceptance of cannabis and opium,
monitoring of the drug of initiation among users can be a
useful process in identifying changing patterns of drug use
across the country. For example, the 2002 Ministry of
Social Justice and Empowerment Rapid Assessment Study
revealed that within the majority of fourteen study sites
respondents cited cannabis (40 per cent) followed by
alcohol (33 per cent) to be dominant drugs of initiation.
However, in Dimapur, a city from North Eastern region,
for around 34 per cent of the sample the first drug of abuse
was propoxyphene, followed by heroin for 30 per cent
(Kumar, 2002).
The profile of drugs users is another area that has
undergone significant changes. As mentioned above,
traditional users were predominantly from the male adult
population (Masihi et al, 1996; Charles et al, 1999). Data
collected from fourteen study sites in the Rapid Assessment
Study indicate that after legislative measures were put in
place to criminalise drug use, the age of initiation to drug
use fell. The Study showed the mean age to be nineteen
and below, with around 52 per cent of the users in the
sample starting to use drugs between the ages of 16 and 20
years (Kumar, 2002).
Socio-cultural mechanisms also traditionally ensured that
drug use by women within India was limited. There now
appears to be a shift in this pattern. Drug use among
women is often hidden with available data being based on
random sampling of identified drug users. Nonetheless,
data collected from 75 drug users in Mumbai, Delhi and
Aizwal indicated the main substances of abuse to be heroin,
propoxyphene, alcohol, minor tranquilisers and cough

syrup. Around 40 per cent were injecting drug users with
49.3 per cent of the sample aged between 21 and 30 years
old. In Aizwal, a larger proportion of the drug users were
between 15 and 20 years old (Murthy, 2002).
The consequences of an erosion of the traditional gender
based restrictions on drug use also include negative
secondary impacts. Of the seventy-five women within
Pratima Murthy’s 2002 study, 45.3 per cent derived their
main source of income from sex work and drug dealing. In
combination with the high incidence of injecting drug use,
this reality clearly has serious implications for the
management of HIV/AIDS and other blood borne
infections.
The 2001 Amendments of NDPS Act
(1985) and unaddressed concerns
The criminalisation of drug use and the increasing rates of
arrest for possessing small quantities of drugs led to
officials, social scientists, members of the judiciary and
others to question the suitability of such harsh legislation.
According to one observer, the Act failed because of delay
in trials, a weak bail law that left the poor languishing in
prisons, the failure of investigating agencies to follow the
procedural requirements of NDPS Act and a poor
understanding of the addiction problem (Anuradha, 2001).
As a consequence of such criticisms, including those from
the National Addiction Research Centre, a reassessment of
the Act in 2001 resulted in amendments relating to the
length of imprisonment and the quantity and type of drug
seized. This ensured that, where traditional drugs are
concerned, only individuals with large quantities of
cannabis can be arrested for drug trafficking and face
imprisonment.
Further changes in the law in 2002 created two categories
that are based on quantity seized. These are defined as
small quantities and commercial quantities. For trafficking
in commercial quantities, the sentence is imprisonment for
more than twenty years and a fine varying between 100,000
and 200,000 Rupees. The categorisation of quantity varies
according to the substance seized; for hashish, a small
quantity is classified as below 100 grams and commercial
quantity as 1 Kilogram and above; for heroin, a small
quantity is below 5 grams and commercial quantity above
250 grams.
This is arguably a more realistic figure than the former law
that classified those possessing more than a quarter gram as
drug traffickers. Nonetheless, despite the efforts made to
revise the Act, one contradiction persists. This is that any
form of use remains a criminal offence, which can result in

imprisonment for a period of six months. Such an offence
appears to be unrealistic in a country where the use of
cannabis and opium retains widespread cultural acceptance
in many states across the country.
The National Drug Policy follows the lines drawn by
legislation and the focus has been on demand reduction
through prevention and treatment, and supply reduction
through enforcement activities. However, there has been a
clear emphasis of political support and resource allocation to
supply reduction. One example of this relates to one of the
2001 amendments to the act, which created a National Fund
for Control of Drug Abuse. This was designed to support
the expansion of demand reduction programmes, but has yet
to become active (NDPS Act, 2003; Anuradha, 2001).
At present, efforts on the demand side focus on prevention,
treatment, rehabilitation and after care services undertaken
within institutional and community settings. There are
currently 450 centres funded across the country for de-
addiction and counselling services. National level Drug
Abuse Monitoring Systems have also been established in an
effort to understand trends in drug use and its implications
for drug abuse management. Most efforts in the area of
demand reduction are funded by Ministry of Social Justice
and Empowerment and United Nations Office on Drugs
and Crime.
Ongoing issues of concern in the area of
drug demand control in India.
As described here, the authorities have clearly made efforts
to alter provisions of the NDPS to take more account of
the indigenous drug use culture within the country. That
said, evidence suggests that Indian drug policy could be
made far more effective and appropriate to national
realities. This is crucial at a time when overall, “the drug
situation is still in a benign stage in India, though moving in
dangerous directions” (Charles and Britto, 2002). While
cultural norms in rural areas effectively restrict drug use to
traditional forms and drug-related HIV is still relatively
low within the national context of drug use, current trends
suggest increasing levels of problematic non-traditional use
and addiction. We suggest that in any assessment of
contemporary Indian drug control policies, there are a
number of key issues of concern:
• Most prevention efforts within India are, within the
international framework laid down by the United
Nations, currently based on experiences in
predominantly Western countries. As such, they start
from a position that considers all forms of drug use
criminal and deviant. Thus, this leaves no scope for
strengthening cultural mechanisms of use management
or integrating them into contemporary legislation. For

example, where institutional care appears unsustainable,
practitioners could consider traditional forms of control
such as the use of doda pani (a drink made from poppy
pod) to wean users away from excessive opium or heroin
consumption. Research suggests that cultural norms in
India are far more efficient means of drug control, and
have fewer negative side-effects than legislation inspired
by global norms (Charles & Britto 2002).
• Limited government funding means that the treatment
of drug abuse is not widely available.
– Centres tend to provide services on a fee paying basis
and the marginalised street level drug user
consequently has limited options. In the city of
Mumbai, for example, there are no treatment centres
that cater to street level users with complications.
Furthermore, the government hospital catering to the
general population dislikes dealing with drug users
because they are considered to be ‘difficult’ patients.
Treatment for drug addiction is consequently not
widely available and this sometimes results in users
dying without receiving any care (Charles, et al,
1999).
– There is a systematic reduction of government grants
to drug treatment centres and the remuneration for
the services of professionals is so minimal there are
few takers. Under such conditions, there appears to
be limited scope for an appropriate approach to care.
• Attempts at cost management by users, in
combination with the deteriorating quality of street
drugs, have produced more risky forms of use; that is to
say, injecting behaviour. This has serious consequences
for public health in some parts of India. A recent study
found that the purity of heroin sold on the street varies
from 3 per cent to 12 per cent. The Narcotics Drugs
Control Board of India places the purity of street level
heroin at 5 per cent (Charles, 2004). In the north-
eastern part of the country it seems that a shift to
injecting drug use is also a result of time management
issues. The behaviour of a drug user in these areas of
political instability is more dangerous than in other parts
of the country.
• The approach of the Indian government is law
enforcement led, with limited resources provided for
treatment. This is unfortunate, since studies in other
cultural settings show that efforts dominated by the law
enforcement are not particularly effective. A high rate of
drug incarceration as a strategy to control drug use has at
best a marginal impact and does not lead to a significant
undermining of the drug market (Bewley-Taylor et al.
2005). Indeed, experience from around the world reveals
the cost effectiveness of appropriate treatment and harm
reduction programmes and interventions

Mindful of these issues, and within the context of current
research, we therefore urge Indian authorities to:
– Strengthen efforts to understand patterns and trends
of drug use within the country, especially in rural
areas falling along the drug trading routes and those
close to cultivating areas.
– Develop methods for supporting socio-cultural
controls on drug use.
– Urgently assess the demand for drug treatment,
particularly amongst the urban poor engaging in the
most dangerous forms of drug use, and increase the
coverage of a range of treatment interventions.
By concentrating predominantly on the punitive aspects of
UN legislation, the Indian authorities are currently failing
to address adequately the issue of drug use within their
own borders. Without an urgent change in approach,
involving not only the refocusing of resources but also the
recognition of traditional attitudes to the use and
management of mind-altering substances, the nation may in
the future face similar drug-related problems to those
recently experienced in other countries in the region.
Within the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is currently a
high incidence of drug-related deaths and HIV/AIDS
infection among injecting drug users (Nissaramanesh et al,
2005), while increasing problems surrounding the use of
“amphetamine type stimulants” are to be found in Thailand
(Roberts et al., 2004). Specific national circumstances mean
that no two countries experience identical patterns of
problematic drug use. Yet the timely implementation of
pragmatic and culturally appropriate policies within India
would surely do much to prevent a repeat of such crises.
REFERENCES
1.
Annuradha K V I N. (2001), A flawed Act, Semiar
504: 50-54.
2.
Annuradha KVIN , (1999), The Narcotics Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, in ) Drug Culture
in India- A Street Ethnographic Study of Heroin
Addiction in Bombay, Charles et al, Jaipur: Rawat
Publishers p. 302-308.
3.
Bewley-Taylor, D.R. (2001), The United States and
International Drug Control: 1909-1997,
Continuum, p. 176.
4.
Bewley-Taylor, et al, (2005) Incarceration of drug
offenders: costs and impacts, Beckley Foundation
Drug Policy Programme, Briefing Paper 7.
5.
Britto Gabriel, (1989), Policy Perspective in the
Management of Drug Use, Bombay: National
Addiction Research Centre

Bruun, K, Pan, L and Rexed, I, (1975) The
Gentlemen’s Club: International Control of Drugs
and Alcohol, The University of Chicago Press.
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Charles M. (2004) Drug Trade Dynamics in India.
Available from http://www.drugstat@free.fr
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Charles M, Nair K.S, Das A and Britto Gabriel,
(2002) Bombay Underworld: A Descriptive Account
and its Role in Drug Trade in Christian Geffary,
Guilhem Fabre, Michel Schiray, Scientific
Coordinators, Globalisation, Drugs and
Criminalisation, Paris: UNESCO MOST and
UNDP, 2 :12-72
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Charles, M and Britto, G (2002) Culture and the
Drug Scene in India, in in Christian Geffary, Guilhem
Fabre, Michel Schiray, Scientific Coordinators,
Globalisation, Drugs and Criminalisation, Paris:
UNESCO MOST and UNDP, 1 : 4-30
10. Charles M Nair, K.S and Britto Gabriel. (1999) Drug
Culture in India- A Street Ethnographic Study of
Heroin Addiction in Bombay; Jaipur: Rawat
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11. Charles M. (2001) Drug Trade in Himachal Pradesh
the Role of Socio-economic changes, Economic and
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12. Chopra R.N and Chopra I.C, (1990), Drug Addiction
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13. Fisher James. (1975) Nepal: An Overview in Cannabis
and Culture (Ed) Vera Rubin; The Hague: Mouton
Publishers: 247-256.
14. Hasan A Khwaya, (1975) Social Aspects of the Use of
Cannabis in India, in Cannabis and Culture( Ed) Vera
Rubin; The Hague: Mouton Publishers: 235-246.
15. Nissaramanesh, B et al (2005) The Rise of Harm
Reduction in the Islamic Republic of Iran,
Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme,
Briefing Paper 8.
16. Roberts, M. et al (2004) Thailand’s ‘War on Drugs,’
Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme,
Briefing Paper 5.
17. United Nations (1972) The Single Convention on
Narcotic Drugs, New York, 1961 as amended by the
1972 Protocol amending the Single Convention on
Narcotic Drugs,1961, Geneva

Source : http://internationaldrugpolicy.net

March 11, 2009 - Posted by | Artikel

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