Reform in Drug Laws: Providing compulsory rehabilitation for drug addicts and first-time users @ Union Ministry

The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has suggested a more humane treatment and approach for dealing with drug users and addicts. Those who use drugs and are addicts are to be treated as victims, and instead of sending them to Jail, or sentencing them the right approach would be to send them to government-run rehabilitation and de-addiction centres for at least 30days compulsorily. As people are calling for reforms in drug law, this suggestion was recommended at the time of the Cruise Ship Drug case involving the high profile Bollywood Actor’s son namely Aryan Khan. However, The Act is strict towards repeated offenders providing more rigorous punishment. Earlier Sushant Singh Rajput & Rhea Chakrabarty’s case also involved drugs. Many other high profile celebrities are dealt with under the same Act.

Suggested that The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) 1985 Act should be amended, and should introduce changes to the law with its rationale. The reasons behind the changes should also be mentioned. The stigma attached to drug use and abuse should be removed, only then rehabilitation would be possible. The NDPS Act itself makes no distinction between addicts, “first-time users” & “recreational users”. The ministry also sought to decriminalise the possession of small quantities of drugs and suggested a more reformative approach.

The Narcotics Drugs Psychotropic Substance Act 1985, also known as NDPS “prohibits any individual from engaging in any activity consisting of production, cultivation, sale, purchase, transport, storage, and/or consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance.” The legislation was enacted given India’s international commitment to prohibit illegal trafficking and import and export of drugs except for medicinal use. It is special legislation that controls and regulates narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. A list of approximately 237 substances is included under the legislation.

The Court has observed that “several presumptions are also made under the NDPS Act in which the burden of proof is reversed, now being on the accused”. One such presumption is Section 54 of The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, Section 54 provides “Presumption from possession of illicit articles. In trials under this Act, it may be presumed, unless and until the contrary is proved, that the accused has committed an offence” although such presumption is rebuttable. Section 35 of the Act provides “Presumption of culpable mental state” and Sub-Section (1) of Section 35 states that “In any prosecution for an offence under this Act which requires a culpable mental state of the accused, the Court shall presume the existence of such mental state but it shall be a defence for the accused to prove the fact that he had no such mental concerning to the act charged as an offence in that prosecution.”
Section 27 of The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985
provides “Punishment for consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance” it provides that “Whoever consumes any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance shall be punishable,
(a) where the narcotic drug or psychotropic substance consumed is cocaine, morphine, diacetyl-morphine or any other narcotic drug or any psychotropic substance as may be specified in this behalf by the Central Government by notification in the Official Gazette, with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to twenty thousand rupees; or with both; and
(b) where the narcotic drug or psychotropic substance consumed is other than those specified in or under clause(a), with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with a fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.” Moreover Section 31 of the Statute enhanced punishment for offences after a previous conviction. Provides that “(1) If any person who has been convicted of the commission of, or attempt to commit, or abetment of, or criminal conspiracy to commit, any of the offences punishable under this Act is subsequently convicted of the commission of, or attempt to commit, or abetment of, or criminal conspiracy to commit, an offence punishable under this Act with the same amount of punishment shall be punished for the second and every subsequent offence with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to one-half of the maximum term of imprisonment and also be liable to fine which shall extend to one-half of the maximum amount of fine”

The preamble of the Act states that it is “An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to narcotic drugs, to make stringent provisions for the control and regulation of operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances [to provide for the forfeiture of property derived from, or used in, illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, to implement the provisions of the International Conventions on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances] and for matters connected therein.

The Act is designed to fulfil India’s treaty obligations under various International drug control conventions including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

“Several government agencies are mandated to enforce strict drug control laws and regulations… a wide variety of these controlled substances are being used and a sizable number of Indians suffer from the addiction to these substances”. But the stigma attached to it ” hinders access to the treatment” and it “isolates” the patients and makes treatment, care & rehabilitation difficult.

Many international agencies call for “necessary steps to minimise the stigma and discrimination and provide health and welfare services to people affected by substance use (rather than subjecting them to the criminal justice system)”.

It suggested that “there is a need for fresh thinking and innovative solutions, as far as legal and policy measures aimed at drug supply control are concerned”. However the threat of drug abuse cannot be ignored, the drug also becomes a way of funding terrorist activities, these should be taken into consideration while making amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act 1985.

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