Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling on Wednesday announced that his government will decriminalise drug addiction and instead consider it as an illness. He also said that his government would be imposing harsher punishments for selling drugs. This announcement comes as a welcome departure to the state government's existing policy on drug addiction. Sikkim had treated the drug menace as a purely law and order issue rather than a social disease. However, in practical terms, oftentimes the line between user and peddler is blurred.
Addressing a gathering at the Tendong Lho Rum Faat celebration at Saramsa Garden in East Sikkim, Chamling said;
“It is not something to be shunned but to be treated; doctors must be consulted.”
“From now on we, in Sikkim, will no longer treat addiction as a crime, but as an illness. With this we can certainly bring about a change” he added.
Sikkim has been grappling with the epidemic of prescription drug addiction. The most popular drugs of choice have been Spasmo Proxyvon and similar formulations. Another popularly abused medication is Nitrosun-10, commonly referred to as N-10. In 2006, Sikkim enacted the Sikkim Anti Drugs Act. This legislation appended a list of substances and formulations, in schedules to the Act, whose sale or use in Sikkim would constitute a criminal offence. The Act also provided for stringent punishments for use, and abetment to use and sale of these formulations and substances.
Since the sale of these medications had been banned in Sikkim, none of the pharmacists stocked them. Hence, the only source for the drugs was next-door West Bengal. The supply invariably comes from Siliguri, where almost all consumer goods in Sikkim are bought. The checkpoints at Rangpo, Melli and Jorethang are all adequately manned and seizures have been made on multiple occasions. However, the problem lies in those areas where the Teesta and Rangeet are narrower. These unmanned forested areas have become the routes through which a major chunk of the contraband is smuggled.
The biggest criticism to the Act was that apart from punishing the user or peddler by way of fine or imprisonment, it also disqualified people convicted under the Act from being eligible for government employment.
While it is commendable that the Chief Minister has announced changes to the state government's drug policy, one would still have to see how these changes will take shape. On one hand, it is not uncommon for users to occasionally become peddlers. This is more common among users who are not entirely financially secure. The practice of 'half and half' is that a person will purchase double of what they would ordinarily consume so that they can recover the cost of procurement and perhaps make a little extra money from the surplus obtained. Would an addict. who follows this paradigm of a 'sustainable habit', fall within the category of peddler or user? Perhaps this is merely a question of law; if the person is selling, the person is a peddler, if the person is using, the person is an addict.