'Drug Users Need Rehabilitation, Not Jail': Social Justice Ministry Calls for Humane Approach

Recommending changes to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, the ministry has called for decriminalising possession of 'small quantities' of drugs for personal consumption.

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New Delhi: Calling for a humane approach towards drug users and addicts, the Union ministry of social justice and empowerment has recommended changes to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act to exempt them from a prison term, according to a report published by the Indian Express.

Instead, the ministry has suggested that drug users and addicts be treated as ‘victims’ who are in need of de-addiction and rehabilitation. Criminal action should not be taken against them, the ministry said. It has also called for decriminalising possession of ‘small quantities’ of drugs for personal consumption.

The ministry’s suggestion comes at a time when Aryan Khan, the son of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, has been in jail for over 20 days in a drug-related case. The Narcotics Control Bureau had said that it had recovered 13 grams of cocaine, 5 grams of mephedrone, 22 pills of MDMA – all categorised as “intermediate quantities” – and 21 grams of charas, which falls in the “small quantity” category.

The recommendations from the social justice and empowerment ministry are in response to an exercise initiated by the revenue department, which acts as nodal authority for the implementation of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, to elicit views of various government ministries and departments to make changes to the said Act. Last month, it sent out a communication to various ministries and departments, including home ministry, health ministry, social justice and empowerment ministry, the Narcotics Control Bureau and CBI, to suggest changes and the rationale for those changes.

It was against this backdrop that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment sent it out its recommendations concerning NDPS Act.

Also Read: NDPS Act: Should Vices Be Criminalised?

As per the NDPS Act, in India, drug consumption or possession is a criminal offence. It follows a reformative approach towards addicts, granting them protection from prosecution and a jail term if they agree to treatment and rehabilitation. However, in the case of ‘first-time users’ and ‘recreational users’, no such protection is allowed.

Section 27 of the NDPS Act prescribes jail of up to one year or a penalty of up to Rs 20,000, or both, for consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. It is this provision that the ministry wants to be changed by replacing it with compulsory treatment at government rehabilitation and counselling centres for a minimum of 30 days.

On the other hand, despite calling for a rehabilitative approach towards addicts, the Act makes no distinction among ‘first-time users’, ‘recreational users’ and ‘addicts’.

The ministry has further called for exemption of a prison term for those caught up with ‘small quantities’ of banned substances for personal consumption. Even in this case, it has suggested mandatory treatment to individuals concerned.

As per the NDPS Act, ‘small quantities’ refer to amounts less than what has been specified for different substances by the Union government through a notification in the Official Gazette. For example, in the case of cannabis, possession of up to 100 grams is considered a ‘small quantity’. Similarly, in the case of cocaine, the government set limit of ‘small quantity’ is 2 grams.

Complying with the UN conventions, the NDPS Act was enacted in 1985. The Act prohibits trade, production, use and possession of drugs and psychotropic substances, irrespective of purpose, except for medical and scientific reasons.

A study carried by Vidhi Legal Centre for Legal Policy, however, has revealed that cases of possession for personal use constitute the majority of cases filed under the NDPS Act. Last year, the study revealed that 97.7% of NDPS cases in Maharashtra in 2017 and 97.3% cases in 2018 involved were that of “possession for personal consumption”.