A state in India is moving forward with a bold plan to decriminalize drug use in an effort to get more consumers in treatment, Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling announced on Wednesday.
At the same time, the government intends to increase penalties against people convicted of selling illicit drugs.
“The jail term for those trafficking in drugs will be increased, but the consumption of drugs will not be considered an offense,” Chamling said, according to Telegraph India. “Drug use is an ailment, a disease.”
“We will soon bring about changes in the law.”
The move comes as India grapples with a growing drug problem. Rates of prescription opioid and heroin seizures in the country climbed again in 2017, to about 4,700 kilograms, the Times of India reported.
A number of countries have either decriminalized drug use or are currently considering policy changes to decriminalize. Portugal, often cited as a success story for drug reform efforts, has seen rates of drug overdoses and HIV infections plummet in the years since the country decriminalized in 2000. Argentina lawmakers will soon weigh decriminalization for small amounts of drugs, while also increasing penalties for traffickers.
And in Norway, which has historically resisted drug reform, talk of moving toward a decriminalization policy is also ramping up, Vice News recently reported.
Drug reform advocates have long called for humane approaches to drug issues, emphasizing the importance of treating substance use disorder as a health issue rather than a criminal offense. The Sikkim government seems to be embracing that position, to an extent.
“If someone is a criminal, he will hide,” Chamling said. “If you are considered sick, the stigma of being criminal will not be there.”
“We in Sikkim will not call those consuming drugs as criminals, but as patients. The government will provide them with treatment.”
But evidence showing that increasing punishment for drug sellers will prevent use is sparse. A 2014 research review came to the opposite conclusion, in fact, revealing that enhanced penalties against drug sellers does little, if anything, to deter use.
K.C. Nima, team leader of the substance abuse-focused NGO Freedom Facility, said that while the group was pleased about the drug decriminalization announcement, it was “not comfortable with is the enhancement of punishment for drug peddlers because seven out of the 10 peddlers themselves are drug users, and they peddle drugs to fund their use.”
Still, the shift in criminal enforcement for personal drug use is significant. Getting caught using drugs, including marijuana, currently carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a 2,000 Indian rupees (about $290) under the 2006 Sikkim Anti Drugs Act.
That said, for most of India’s history, cannabis has not been criminalized in the country. It’s actually been used in a religious context since about 2,000 BCE, according to passages found in ancient texts.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Indian State Moves To Decriminalize Drugs
Photo by Outco California on Unsplash
Rick Simpson, the Canadian man famous for curing his skin cancer with cannabis, believes that cannabis can help all people suffering from all types of cancer. He took his experience to India recently to make the key note speech at the inaugural Medical Cannabis Conference.
During the conference, Simpson called on government officials to stop restricting medicinal use of the plant. He noted that in the U.S., where there was once heavy opposition, there are now 23 states that have legalized marijuana as a therapeutic plant, and 13 more that have approved more limited medical cannabis oil legislation. During his speech at the conference in Bangalore, Simpson said:
“But India, which has a history of using the herb, has restrictions.”
Traditional treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can harm a patient, Simpson noted, while medical marijuana has no side effects. He elaborated,
“Some oncologists around the world have realized the medical benefits of the herbal plant and have raised their voice for using it to treat cancer.”
Simpson also explained that he has used cannabis oil, a concentrated form created using solvents such as butane, as a curative treatment for his patients for the past 12 years. He blamed pharmaceutical companies for convincing or paying governments to only approve the expensive drugs made by the corporations, instead of allowing people to choose the cheap, herbal alternative. He called on the citizens of India to join together to fight against restrictions.
Conference founder Viki Vaurora pointed out that the plant was sacred, according to the Hindu religious text “The Atharva-Veda.” She said the book also explains that there are many medicinal properties in the plant. The top oncologists in India agree, and have already started lobbying for legal access to medicinal marijuana.
Vaurora added that cannabis could be called the first agricultural crop in India. Cannabis is known to it clean the soil in which it grows. It adds nitrogen back into the earth, improving the growing conditions for future cultivation as well.
Organizers say the conference is intended to bring an open and honest study of cannabis and its ability to cure and treat a variety of ailments. Meetings will continue each weekend in May in the cities of Pune, Mumbai and Delhi.
Although this conference will not end in legalization, it will undoubtedly be a stepping stone for future policy reform.
There’s irony everywhere you look in the cannabis culture. From Hawaii’s medical legalization that allows small gardens, but prohibits citizens from purchasing seeds or clones, to the judges who sentence inner city youth for minor possession and then go home and smoke up themselves, many characteristics of the pot world are rife with hypocrisy and double standards.
The pot fields of the Himalayan valley in India, situated at a potency-enhancing elevation of 10,000 feet, are no exception. Regarded by many as the homeland for a variety of high-quality indica landrace strains, Himalaya maintains a small cannabis tourism business despite the fact that most villagers who produce the herb remain impoverished.
Most of this poverty is caused by the simple fact that marijuana is officially outlawed in India, and has been since 1985. As a result, the majority of the profits are kept by the distributors, rather than the farmers. These black market operators take not only the cannabis and hash to distribute, but also most of the cash.
Poverty & Top-Shelf Hash
Despite this trade inequality, top-shelf Indian hashish from the region, which is called charas, is highly valued throughout Europe and around the world.
Unlike Colombian fair-trade coffee farmers, no such protections exist for Himalayan villagers cultivating thousands of acres of illegal cannabis destined to become high-priced hash in boutique smoking cafes in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and other canna-friendly regions of Europe.
After it reaches its retail destination, charas sells for 10 times what it fetches within the confines of these small, backward communities where 10 grams of the potent hashish costs as little as $30.
According to one villager,
“In Amsterdam, it’s like a vintage car. Dealers can name their price.”
Paved roads do not exist in these remote villages of the Himalayas, so walking time remains the main measurement for distances. This has made it quite difficult for law enforcement to locate and eradicate the huge fields of marijuana growing in the region. Some of these massive cultivation sites are estimated to be as large as 3,000 acres, often blanketing entire mountains.
Why don’t villagers switch to a different crop or seek employment elsewhere? The work simply isn’t available. Cannabis farming and the production of charas hash are literally the only ways of putting food on the table for thousands of residents within these communities.
Steeped in Tradition
The Himalayan region features a long tradition of cannabis cultivation that dates back to 2,000 BC. Hash production and consumption is highly ingrained in Indian culture; it’s even mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. While some efforts have been made to introduce legal farm crops to the region, most villagers show little interest. This is mostly because such crops produce for farmers income that’s equal to or less than what they receive for cannabis, obviously giving them little or no motivation to become legal farmers of things like sweet peas and beans.
Of course, this needless poverty could be eradicated if cannabis was simply legalized in the country and fair-trade relationships were established with villagers in the region, giving them a larger slice of the pie. This would help remove the criminal elements that are currently grabbing the lion’s share of profits and lift residents of the Himalayan region out their third-world subsistence, vastly improving education, health care, and their overall quality of life.
Just as in other areas of the world, prohibition is penalizing Indian villagers by perpetuating their poverty and handing the spoils of the drug war to outside criminal elements.