Highlights

  • The SADA decriminalised the use of cannabis in India in 2018
  • What impact will decriminalising marijuana have on India's economy?
  • Is US's new stance on marijuana signalling global change?

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Should cannabis be decriminalised in India? | The Issue

A look at the impact of decriminalising marijuana in India, using the case study of the Sikkim Anti Drugs Act 

A long-standing debate concerning narcotic drugs is whether the problem is the use of drugs or the user themselves. Should drug users be viewed as criminals is a question that law enforcement struggles with till today.

Cannabis in India is illegal. But there is also a state that looks at the use of drugs not from a criminalisation perspective, but a rehabilitative one. This is the case of Sikkim, where using cannabis is decriminalised.

Also watch - UN removes cannabis from 'Most Dangerous Drugs' category

In an attempt to combat the drug problem the state was going through, Sikkim in 2006 enacted the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act. In 2017, the SADA was amended to recognise the difference between ‘peddlers’ and ‘consumers’. This did mainly two things – 1) healthcare within the state could be channelised to help the most vulnerable drug users and 2) the scheme of punishment and rehabilitation was changed, to look at users and sellers/manufacturers differently.

In 2018, SADA went a step ahead and decriminalised illicit drug use. It also laid down elaborate provisions for detoxification and rehabilitation. Sustained advocacy by the members of civil society, doctors and de-addiction centers made a huge impact on the writing of the law, and in turn that impacted how people perceived drug use and addiction in the state.

One of the biggest things that this amendment did was removal of the stigma. The police instead of registering cases and arresting the drug users, ascertained the need for de-addiction, facilitated rehabilitation, and focused their energies on large scale peddlers.

Interviews conducted by the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy with the police and prison authorities revealed that undertrials in the Sikkim Central Jail had fallen from over two hundred to a mere sixty-six after the 2018 amendment.

This case study begs a larger question – how is criminalising marijuana impacting India?

The foremost way is economically. India currently contributes only 0.001% to the world market for hemp products, which is pegged to be $4.7 billion USD today. Over three crore people in India consume cannabis. A study found that in 2018, New Delhi and Mumbai consumed 38.26 metric tonnes and 32.38 metric tonnes of cannabis respectively. It estimated that around Rs 725 crore could be raised in Delhi if cannabis is taxed. This number was pegged at Rs. 641 crore for Mumbai.

Also watch - Ratan Tata-backed cannabis startup Bombay Hemp raises $2 million

Criminalization of cannabis use increases the strain on the criminal justice system. It is particularly felt by an already overburdened and understaffed police force. A study has also argued that this criminalisation affects the marginalised more. Research from Mumbai shows that almost every person arrested and convicted for cannabis consumption was either a daily wage worker or a slum dweller. This marginalisation is apparent through the world. Even in America, African Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of whites, yet both ethnicities consume marijuana at roughly the same rates.

It is often argued that the reason cannabis usage can never be decriminalised in India is because of the adverse effects the substance has on our health. However, it is also true that cannabis usage continues to be ubiquitous in our country, and the method of consumption may be far more dangerous for our health.

The stigma associated with criminalization results in social exclusion and isolation, and it makes access to healthcare and harm reduction services a lot lesser. Lack of regulation also drives users to both unsafe practices as well as contaminated material, making them prone to disease and overdose.

Also watch - Here's a deeper look at Bollywood's history with drugs

Commonly held belief suggests that India’s crackdown on cannabis started with USA’s anti-drug push in the sixties and President Joe Biden’s recent statement is a clear indication that they have moved away from this belief. Announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses, he said no one should be in jail for simple posession of marijuana. Many countries world over are also slowly pushing towards decriminalising marijuana and allowing for it’s use in a controlled environment.
Now the question, should India also be looking at its relationship with marijuana from a changed perspective? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

Watch Part I: The history of cannabis in India | The Issue

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