Drug policy in India

Tripti Tandon
IDPC Policy Briefing Paper
February 2015

India’s response to drugs flows along an extraordinary spectrum – of tradition and modernity; of widespread availability and stringent enforcement; of tolerance and prohibition; of production for medical use to lack of medical access to opiates. India’s long history of cannabis and opium use is referenced extensively in policy analysis. Being a country with significant volumes of licit and illicit drug cultivation, a transit route as well as a consumer market, India’s drug policy dilemmas span ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ control.

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Its large chemical and pharmaceutical industry draws the country into deliberations on the illicit manufacture of drugs and precursor control as well as the non-medical use of prescription drugs. Some parts of the country report alarmingly high rates of drug dependence,HIVandviralhepatitisamongst people who inject drugs, making health and harm reduction important policy considerations. While India’s harsh drug control laws (in particular the criminalization of drug use and the imposition of the death penalty for certain drug offences) conform strictly with prohibition, its regulated opium cultivation industry provides insights for countries that are experimenting with alternatives to prohibition.

Points for consideration

In response to the policy challenges, the following reform possibilities are proposed to the government of India for consideration:

• Review the harsh and disproportionate sentencing structure under the NDPS Act, and remove the criminalization of drug use and imposition of the death penalty for drugs offences

• Ensure that the legal provisions on drug treatment are adequately applied in a way that enables people who use drugs to access evidence-based treatment services without the threat of punitive sanctions such as criminal prosecution and imprisonment

• Adopt and enforce minimum quality standards to ensure that the treatment programs are scientifically proven and respect the human rights of people dependent on drugs

• Expand access to narcotic and psychotropic medicines necessary for treating a range of medical conditions, with practical safeguards against illicit diversion

• Improve co-ordination between government departments with a clear remit for each state agency on developing and implementing policies and practices relating to drugs

• Consult with civil society groups, including representatives of people who use drugs, medical professionals, academics and patient groups specializing in drugs issues in drug policy formulation

• Establish regular data collection on drug use, dependence and related health implications such as HIV and viral hepatitis prevalence amongst people who inject drugs.

• Apply harm reduction principles to drug policy formulation with the objective of reducing the harms associated with drugs, instead of being guided by the unachievable goal of creating a ‘drug-free’ society.