Temptations of Narcotics Legalisation
One of the major fallouts of the Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) case is the sudden interest in legalising/decriminalising consumption of a small list of psychotropic substances in the country.
 
The timing of the debate may have had Bollywood origins, but the economics of the debate has a long history in India.  
 
Narcotics and psychotropic substances include a long list of both naturally occurring and synthetic compounds. The cannabinoids and opioids are naturally occurring and, over the years, through chemical treatment, many new compounds have been created from plants such as heroin.
 
The medicinal use of the cannabinoids and opioids has long been known in Asia. If one goes by the (Eurocentric) history of opium on the Central Narcotics Bureaus website, the properties of the plant have been well documented since 1000 CE. Similarly medicinal use of cannabinoids has been known since 1000 BCE in India. Further, the practice of using seeds and oil from these plants as condiments and spices continues to this day.  
 
The available recorded history of these plants does not indicate a large-scale recreational use of these plants in Asia. The Arthasastra talks about taxing/licensing alcohol but not psychotropic substances. In fact, until 1750, these plants have never been used as source of revenue for the State by promoting recreational use. 
 
However, this changed with the arrival of the British in India. Following the 1606 Queen Elizabeth I Charter to purchase the finest Indian opium and transport it back to England, the subsequent British expansion in India was closely tied to areas that produced opium. 
 
The British East India Company assumed control of Bengal and Bihar, opium-growing districts of India in 1750. It zealously pursued a revenue maximisation policy through a monopoly by promoting recreational use of opioids domestically and through exports in China. With the annexation of Sindh in 1840 all possible access to the sea except through company’s ports was cut-off for the so-called rival Malwa opium. 
 
Forced poppy cultivation ultimately became a factor in triggering the First War of Independence in 1857. This led to the passage of the Opium Act 1857 to regulate the cultivation of opium poppy and manufacture of opium. This was followed by the Indian Opium Act of 1878 to control smuggling, the private possession and trade in opium thereby securing government monopoly. 
 
At the height of its opium trade, the British India government derived a quarter of its total revenue from this single commodity. Thus, when the United States took notice of large-scale opium addiction in its colony Philippines in 1898 and decided to pursue a foreign policy to dismantle the Sino-Indian opium trade in 1900s, the British were quick to realise—loss of opium revenue implied liquidation of the empire.
 
It would not be before 1917 that the Sino-Indian opium trade would be fully dismantled. With falling exports since 1907, a part of the revenue would be compensated by encouraging domestic consumption of opium through licensed shops. Gandhi's political agitation in opposition to the official distribution of drugs pressurised the colonial authorities to sign the Geneva Convention of 1925.The growing addiction and opposition from Indian leaders led to the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930.
 
The weight of domestic and international events in respect of controlling illicit trade and production in narcotic substances prior to independence would eventually devolve on the government of independent India. The Article 47 of the Constitution says—“the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.” State governments in post-independence period would pursue divergent policies depending on its revenue dependency on intoxicating drinks and drugs. While most of the states adopted a tight regulation, the state of Gujarat went for complete prohibition of alcohol but not of drugs. 
 
Post-independence dynamics of trade in drugs in South Asia was further complicated by geography. Independent India was now sandwiched between the Golden Crescent in the West and the Golden Triangle in the East, making India a transit point for the trade in contrabands. The situation would be further complicated by the 1980 Cold War geopolitics as the dividing line between trade in contraband and state objectives blurred. Thus, the period between 1947 and 1985 would see a resurgence in the outflow of narcotic substances from South Asia, including India. 
 
Thus, under international pressure, the Indian Parliament enacted a comprehensive legislation on narcotics drugs & psychotropic substances, namely, the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, repealing the Opium Act 1857, Opium Act 1878 and Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930. 
 
This murky, often glossed over, history of drug trade in South Asia offers many points to ponder upon. First, does any policy to legalise the consumption of substance XYZ (of course not out of kindness of heart) to raise revenues, imply legalising its production? If not, then it opens the doors for imports or for a thriving black market and eventual compromise of institutions. What signal does legalising consumption send?
 
Second, a policy of revenue maximisation is a slippery slope; higher revenues come at cost of social depredation. Ignoring the dividing line between medicinal and recreational uses is not learning from history and following the imperialist policy all over again. The Assam Opium Enquiry Committee, an informal group set up by the Congress in 1925, concluded that 'when public opinion is awake and active', then the solution to the drugs problem becomes easier.
 
The 2019 All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) survey on substance dependency estimates that more than 5.7 crore people are affected by harmful or dependent alcohol use. About 72 lakh individuals need help for their cannabis use problems. An estimated 60 lakh people suffer from opioid use disorders. Will these numbers remain static? From where will resources for rehabilitation be raised—by legalising the very same product!
 
Third, the objective of controlling the drug problem is intrinsically linked to the ability of states to garner sufficient revenues. The present federal structure still carries the remnants of the colonial policy of using intoxicants as a source of revenue at state level. The divergent practices adopted by states just after independence only proves this point. Intoxicants have been kept outside the goods and services tax (GST) as there is reluctance to part with a highly price inelastic tax base. Thus in a sense, anti-narcotics objectives and cooperative federalism are two sides of the same coin in the Indian context. If the GST compensation issue persists for too long, the clamour to legalise will only grow further. 
 
(The author is an economist in the banking system. The views are personal) 
 
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    IMA criticises Centre for inappropriate medical reforms amid a pandemic
    The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called out the Centre for responding inappropriately to the pandemic on Thursday. In a strongly-worded statement, the national body of doctors has condemned the series of reforms in medical education the Centre has pushed recently.
     
    The IMA has alleged that concerns of the profession and people were brushed aside while enacting the National Medical Council Act 2019.
     
    They also referred to clause 32 of National Medical Commission (NMC) Act, 2019, as a "crime against humanity," which entitles all healthcare practitioners license to practice medicine in primary care.
     
    As per IMA, it will jeopardise the lives of the patients."This single clause (32 of NMC Act) will cost India millions of lives as it will allow half and partially trained non medical persons to treat patients, the IMA said.
     
    "The community health providers are an assorted group of persons connected with the modern scientific medical profession. They can be anyone from laboratory technicians to optometrists. The NMC will provide them a licence to practice medicine in primary care. This will include a wide range of diseases and maternity. If they are overseen by other Community Health Providers, they can practice inside ICUs, Critical Care, Operation theatres, emergencies, Labour rooms, and anywhere in the secondary and critical care. This single clause 32 will cost India millions of lives. Letting loose half and partially trained non-medical persons to treat patients is a crime against humanity," it explained.
     
    The IMA also condemned the centre's ambitious 'one nation one system' policy in medical education and called it a cocktail of disaster.
     
    "The Government is alleged to have favoured 'one nation one system' which is a cocktail for disaster. The National Educational Policy will enable a mix all systems of medicine and produce Hybrid doctors. In effect, doctors of modern medicine as existing today will cease to exist in a decade. The nation will produce only Hybrid doctors of questionable repute," it said.
     
    Besides, the IMA also shared its concern on the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2020, which allows assorted paramedics to practice medicine independently. "It is the final nail in the coffin," it commented.
     
    "What the Government has in store for the nation is a lytic cocktail of mixing all systems (mixopathy) allowing all systems to practise modern medicine (crosspathy) allowing unqualified non-medical persons entry into medical register and legitimising their practise in primary, secondary and tertiary care hospitals ( official quackery) as well as allowing paramedics to become medics. Modern medicine as a science will be extinct in India by 2030," the IMA said.
     
    The apex body of doctors criticised that the Centre's "inappropriate" response to the pandemic has come at a time when modern medicine has stood tall in the face of a pandemic, and its doctors have saved millions of lives to contain the Case Fatality rate at 1.7%. "Their (government's) own statistics show that 96% of patients prefer modern medicine," the IMA added.
     
    The IMA also resolved to resist the latest moves by the Centre. "We resolve to resist these ill-conceived moves. Dignity and Honour of the medical profession are not for barter. The doctors and the medical students of India will jointly resist these serious infringes on the health of the nation in the name of people of India," the apex medical association said.
     
    Last week, through a gazette notification, the centre dissolved the Medical Council of India and formed NMC to function as the country's apex regulatory body of medical education and profession.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    Conditional relaxation for public gatherings after Oct 15
    While the MHA has allowed further relaxation switch reopening of cinema halls and entertainment parks with conditions, there are some reprieves that are being given in gatherings as well.
     
    Social, academic, sports, entertainment, cultural, religious, political functions and other congregations have already been permitted with a ceiling of 100 persons, outside Containment Zones.
     
    States and Union Territory governments have been given the flexibility to permit such gatherings beyond the limit of 100 persons, outside Containment Zones, after October 15.
     
    However, these relaxations will be subject to certain conditions. In closed spaces, a maximum of 50% of the hall capacity will be allowed, with a ceiling of 200 persons. Wearing of face masks, maintaining social distancing, provision for thermal scanning and use of hand wash or sanitiser will be mandatory.
     
    In case of open spaces, gatherings will be allowed keeping the size of the ground or space in view, and with strict observance of social distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks, provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitiser.
     
    But the MHA has warned, "To ensure that such gatherings do not spread Covid-19, State/ UT Governments will issue detailed standard operating procedures (SOP) to regulate such gatherings, and strictly enforce the same."
     
    Outside Containment Zones, international air travel of passengers, except as permitted by MHA, will remain restricted.
     
    Meanwhile, the lockdown will continue to be implemented strictly in the Containment Zones till October 31, said the MHA. It also said that Containment Zones shall be demarcated by the District authorities at micro level after taking into consideration the guidelines of MoHFW with the objective of effectively breaking the chain of transmission. "Strict containment measures will be enforced in these containment zones and only essential activities will be allowed," it added.
     
    It further said that within the containment zones, strict perimeter control will be maintained and only essential activities allowed. These Containment Zones will be notified on the websites of the respective District Collectors and by the States and UTs and information will also be shared with the Union Health Ministry.
     
    The MHA reiterated that State and UT Governments must not impose any local lockdown , outside the containment zones, without prior consultation with the Central Government.It also warned against restriction on inter-State and intra-State movement of persons and goods. "No separate permission/ approval/ e-permit will be required for such movements," the MHA asserted.A
     
    Persons above 65 years of age, those with co-morbidities, pregnant women, and children below the age of 10 years, are once again advised by the MHA to stay at home, except for meeting essential requirements and for health purposes, while urging all to use the Aarogya Setu App.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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