November 1st has been observed as International Drug Users Day since 1995. Globally, there is a growing movement by activists and policy experts calling for de-criminalisation of drug users.
India has a long history of cannabis and opium use for social, cultural, religious and medical purposes. There are several examples of the use of these substances being sanctioned by particular communities. In sharp contrast today, India’s explicit constitutional aspiration to eliminate all forms of drug use from society is possibly the single most dangerous ideal that has fueled utter disregard for the health and rights of people who use drugs in India.
Political apathy is evident from the 2014 amendment to the principal Indian drug law, NDPS Act 1985, which leaves very little space for the promotion of evidence-informed and rights-based programming for drug users. The amendment does have a few positive features in its handling of harm reduction, treatment and recasting the death penalty. However, it enhances punishment for consumption and possession of small quantities for personal use from 6 months to 1 year, which is in direct contrast to developments in countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and even America where the War on Drugs originated. The response in India to drug use has primarily been a health services-based approach. Though it mitigates some aspects of vulnerability, this approach fails to address the central role that rights protections play in ensuring the overall wellbeing of drug users.
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