New Delhi: Dharamvir Gandhi, Lok Sabha MP from Punjab, wants to legalise cannabis. And he is getting able support from a few of his Parliament colleagues like actor-turned-politician and BJP MP Vinod Khanna besides a former head of India's narcotics watchdog.
Gandhi, the AAP MP from Patiala in Punjab, is moving a private member's bill seeking to legalise the recreational use of cannabis in India. The bill has been cleared by the legislative branch of Parliament and will be moved in this session starting November 20.
"Soft drugs are part of the cultural history of India and does not lead to an abusive lifestyle or rise in crime. It was only used as a measure of 'mauj-masti' (relaxation and enjoyment) by the common people," Gandhi told News18.
Gandhi believes that the current law governing narcotics has only helped the case of the drug mafia and has helped proliferation of more harmful drugs like cocaine, smack and heroine. His bill seeks to permit authorised and monitored sale of soft drugs and seeks to legitimise cultivation, production, possession, manufacture, sale, transport, and inter-state export, import, use and consumption of such soft drugs.
"Even after 35 years of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, it has failed to achieve the objectives for which it was passed. Neither could it make India a drug-free nation nor was it able to curtail the dangerous network of drug mafias across the nation and the globe," Gandhi said, adding that his bill already has the support of a few MPs including his fellow Punjabi MP and BJP leader Vinod Khanna and Odisha's BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy.
News18 could not contact Khanna and Satpathy
Well, of course, private member's bills have a history of failing at the hustings and this too might suffer the same fate. In the last 46 years, no private member bill has been passed except a bill pertaining to transgender rights.
Tripti Tandon, deputy director of Lawyers Collective and a researcher on Indian narcotics, told News18 that regardless of its fate the very fact that the issue will be taken up by the House is a positive step.
"This bill will be debated and that is a positive step, but this bill will never be passed by the House. There are regulations and rules with NDPS act to be followed by the states, but they are never looked into. Though this bill will have some supporters it will not gain majority support because of the lack of understanding concerning drugs and the entire paranoia surrounding this issue," she said.
Last year, the Uttarakhand government had legalised hemp cultivation (a variant of the cannabis strain) but it was only for industrial purposes.
Interestingly, Gandhi's move has got support from a former head of the Central Bureau of Narcotics.
Romesh Bhattacharji, former commissioner of Central Bureau of Narcotics, and currently a member of the Institute for Narcotics Studies, told News18 that the bill would be "an excellent move to rectify an erroneous law."
"This is a good move, and this needs to be debated in the face of such stiff ignorance which often takes root in the moral high grounds people take after being influenced by the UN conventions. This law has been victimising people since 1985," he said.
Bhattacharji said that he had conducted a survey in Punjab from 2001 to 2011 and the data showed that around 25,003 were languishing behind bars under the NDPS Act. Out of that only 10 to 60 people were drug-traffickers and the rest were the poor charged with offences of possessing soft drugs.
"In 1999, during my tenure at the Narcotics Control Bureau, I had proposed the idea of creating an Opium registry which would deliver opium to Registered Opium users in India since 1971 from the government treasury, but the Ministry of Finance rejected the idea without applying any mind to the grave concern staring at us. I am happy at least now there will be deliberations to amend this act," he said.
Analysts believe that the classification of hard drugs and soft rugs – which is what essentially Gandhi's bill demands – is not something which is new, and has its roots in the early legislative history of the NDPS act.
Lawyer's Collective's Tandon said even when the present NDPS act was being passed, many MPs had voiced their opposition citing the need for such a classification. "But it never gained any traction, primarily because government believes these soft drugs are 'gateway drugs' which leads to addiction to the harder ones," she said.
Tandon said there has been no study to validate government's claim of 'gateway drugs' and even symptoms like seizures, fits, etc did not corroborate the claim of the authorities.