‘Treat users with small quantity of drugs as victims, not culprits'

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‘Treat users with small quantity of drugs as victims, not culprits’
© Provided by The Times of India

NEW DELHI: The social justice and empowerment ministry has suggested that the existing definition of the word ‘addict’ may be removed and instead such a person be referred to as a ‘user’ and ‘substance dependent’, in an effort to improve the NDPS Act.

Emphasising that users and dependents caught with small quantities of drugs and their families should be treated as “victims” and not culprits of substance abuse, the ministry of social justice and empowerment has suggested compulsory rehabilitation and treatment instead of jail and penalties.

The recommendations are in response to a request by the revenue department for possible modifications to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985.

The MSJ&E has suggested modifications that such users should be referred to a mandatory deaddiction and rehabilitation facility for a minimum period of 30 days after which they may also be made to provide mandatory community service for one year.

It has made these suggestions in a recent letter by the revenue department which had sought views of different ministries including home and health on the provisions of the law and if they would want to suggest any changes. It is also recommended that in the section that deals with the national fund for control of drug abuse demand reduction with special programmes in schools and colleges may be added.

In the section of offences and penalties the ministry has proposed changes so that while pronouncing the punishment a distinction can be made between those who have been caught with small quantities for personal consumption and those who are caught with large quantities beyond what would be defined as “small quantities”.

In one of the clauses that talks of immunity from prosecution to addicts volunteering for treatment, the ministry has suggested that the voluntary component be deleted as it is recommended that for all such users treatment should be mandatory for a minimum period followed by a mandatory period of community service.

Coincidentally, these suggestions come at a time when the Mumbai cruise ship drug case involving Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan is in the news. The issue of small quantities of drugs with individual consumers has gained spotlight in the wake of Khan’s case.

Underlining its working motto that drug addicts are victims and not criminals, the social Justice ministry in its suggestions tries to make the point that the law needs to make a distinction between traffickers and individuals who are drug addicts found in possession of drugs in small quantities for personal use.

The department of revenue of the finance ministry is examining amendments to the stringent law which governs the illegal drugs trade and seizures, with provisions that impose non-negotiable jail sentence and heavy fines. As part of the exercise, the finance ministry, which governs the NDPS Act, recently sought the opinion of individual ministries that are stakeholders in the debate.

The MSJ&E runs a drug division under the social defence department and also has a national policy on drug demand reduction, while running a network of de-addiction centres across the country.

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