Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling in an official release announced that the state would no longer prosecute drug users, but rather look at them as patients to encourage treatment options instead of utilizing the current punishment of incarceration and a fine. Traffickers and dealers, however, will face even harsher penalties.
In an effort to engage youth, Chamling also said that he was in the process of reaching out to Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt to come to Sikkim and energize the message of resisting drug dependence.
These moves come at a time while India is facing its own opioid epidemic. In 2017, while the top two substances that were most popular in India as a whole were ganja then hashish, the next two most popular were opium and then opium’s mean derivative, heroin. Heroin may not have been as abundant as weed, but its use in India has experienced a sharp spike along with prescription opiate based pills.
India has a rich history in cannabis, starting thousands of years ago and in religious settings. When the 1961 international treaty Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs put marijuana in a category with hard drugs, the Indian delegation balked at the narrow mindedness of the idea and the lack of respect for their culture and religious practices.
The traditional ganja laced drink bhang was then left out of the bondage by which cannabis and other drugs were tied. In 1985 the Indian government passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. Bhang was still excluded from being considered a drug, though regional bans did ensue over time.
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As India as a whole works to re-legalize cannabis, this move by Chamling to decrim all drugs is a step in a similar and good direction. Using Portugal as an indicator, decriminalizing drug use means fewer cases of HIV/AIDS, fewer deaths and a better relationship between the government and its people.
Though the U.S. seems to be a long way from decriminalizing drugs, there are ways to get involved and spread the message that incarceration for victimless crimes is not the answer. Contact your local representatives, join forces with the Drug Policy Alliance and remember the wisdom in Sikkim’s government action. Though prosecuting dealers more harshly likely won’t do much to deter use, fewer people will be in jail and more will be getting treatment.