Is Drug Policy in a flux or is a different shade of criminalization being planned for?  

Our association with mind altering substances has rarely remained static or uniform across the globe or within any given region. The United Nations sought to control this complex, diverse and intricate human association through its various global conventions, beginning with the Single Convention 1961 as the base; and State members were bound to follow the set path without much room for change (1,2).

But, despite all of its efforts it could neither rein in the drug problem nor ensure that a uniform drug policy led to the synthesis of uniform associations with mind altering substances, across the globe. In many countries a minor shift in drug policy occurred when drugs users became very vulnerable to HIV infection, initiating harm minimization measures for users who injected drugs. The harm minimization strategy included, provision of safe needle and syringes, opioid agonist therapy (OST) to users in the community and to addicted prison population, setting up of a room for safe consumption of drugs in the community, and user peers carrying community outreach work. While that gained acceptance in Europe, US and other countries across the globe in varying degrees, countries in Asia (Japan, Laos, Phillippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka), countries in Middle East and North Africa (Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE, Yemen), all parts of Oceania (except for Australia and New Zealand), many countries in Latin America, Sub-Saharan and West Africa. kept away from this change (3). The decriminalization of cannabis use was another measure taken up by certain countries (4). At the global level out of 206 countries, only 86 countries have needle and syringe programme and 84 countries opioid agonist therapy (OST) and these are countries in Eurasia, North America and Western Europe. No country has adopted as a whole all of the initiatives considered part of harm reduction efforts (3).

Drug policy, today, is located at a crucial juncture, where profile change is a must but it is far more evasive than what individuals hoped for, particularly those who believe legalization, decriminalization or harm minimization can show us the way forward. Except for some countries in Europe (Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Czech Republic), parts of US, parts of Australia, certain countries in Latin America (Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico) (4), the move towards decriminalisation of cannabis use or rational approach to drug use management has not gained any momentum. Besides, even in countries with a decriminalization approach there isn’t any licit option for cannabis (5).

Countries with the space for decriminalization of cannabis use, do overwrite this option with vague or unrealistic specifications as that of differentiating between the user and trader based on the amount of drug seized. A clear indication of the same is Russia where 0.1 gram of cannabis and 0.005 grams of heroin is considered an exceptionally large amount. Even countries such as Uruguay where decriminalization exists, police enforcement practices lead to low-level drug users ending up in pre-trial detention centres for long periods without any formal charges. (4)

The reluctance to shift to a rational approach is a global reality, except for a few exceptions. This even though documented evidence indicates that through the decades spent adopting a rational approach leading to a policy shift in Portugal, inclusive of decriminalization, saw no drastic surge in cannabis use, restricted the harmful effects on health among hard drug users and lowered the rate of conviction among the drug using population. This was made possible not so much by law as by the cultural shift among people to try different ways to manage the drug problem in a humane and rationale manner, especially health professionals and those directly and indirectly affected by drug use ( 6 ). After 2001 there was a dramatic change in the rate of conviction. The number of individuals incarcerated for criminal acts involving sale, distribution, or production of drugs dropped by half (7) Till 2008 Portugal did not emphasize on the sanctioned amount which was left rather vague. This changed when a judgement of the Supreme court specified the quantum of drug in possession to differentiate between a drug user and dealer (8). This, interestingly, saw an increase in the number of drug users’ citation (as part of legal action, largely administrative) from 2005 to 2010, when it reached the same level as prior to the decriminalization in 2001, though this may not be the only reason (7).

Netherlands is another country where de facto decriminalization has not led to a surge in cannabis use and harm minimization strategies have had a positive impact. It has not been able to go all out for decriminalization or the legalisation of cannabis, though there is support for policy change at the ground level. The shift has been held back by a desire for harmony with the overall drug policy of the EU and the tug of war between those who stand for a drug free world and those who believe in a rational approach to drug use/abuse management. These conflicting views led to a change in the implementation of the decriminalization process as the number of coffee shops were reduced from 1500 in the 1990’s to 615 in 2012, This reduced number of coffee shops then had to cater to more customers and their daily quota of 500 grams fell far too short (5). Experience from the Netherlands is an indication that the move towards decriminalization is not smooth and rarely static, the inclination to shift towards some form of a punitive approach is strong not just in Netherlands but in many countries across the globe.

Countries like Portugal (9), Netherlands, Spain and Czechoslovakia have tried to shift away from the punitive approach with other substances as well (4), the focus being on public health and the desire to keep drug users outside the criminal justice system, especially those who are not into drug dealing.

But, there is this tug of war between two different perspectives, the criminal approach and the move towards decriminalization, and when both play out within the same society, as in the many countries that opt for decriminalization, the implementation of the law is rarely as per the book. This can be seen as the police trying their best to keep drug users away from the streets, inside detention centres or in lock up, especially so when the quantity of drug on the person give the police an option to use force.

The convenient interpretation of a law that is always in flux turning harsh is a global reality of policing That tendency to see drug users taken off the streets is very strong in India too, users ending up languishing in jail for years to hear the final judgement is an old reality of India (10).

Most striking of all, is the attitude of the police in the US. the law says a user can be arrested if the drug is displayed in public view. It is interesting how this works out during the police-user interaction where on suspicion the police ask the individual to show what he/she has on person, if on doing so the individual comes up with drugs, the police arrest the person for breaking the law by ‘displaying drugs in public view’ (4).

It is interesting is that no country with a history of cultural use of cannabis along with cultivation of the plant, has tried to strengthen its cultural frame of use, not just as a mind-altering substance but also for its known medicinal properties, or for any environment friendly option as that of producing jackets, ropes, shoes. This has existed in parts of India, even a decade ago or earlier the people of Himachal Pradesh were familiar with art of producing these products that were made available in the market, though not mainstream (11).

Those who want to ensure a drug free society, see decriminalization as a threat and consider even a slight increase in the prevalence rate to be the end of the road. But the point often forgotten is that decriminalization does not aim at a drug free society, nor will the decriminalization of cannabis guarantee that hard drug users will be non-existent, doing so, is to assume a myth to be reality.

The human craving for mind altering substances existed and will continue to exist. Given the growth in the variety of substances that vie to be the favourite among its clientele, the rational option is to:

  1. prevent accidental or overdose deaths, this issue has been focused on by European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2014), it has been pointed out that complexity in arriving at a conclusive cause and diversity in use makes causality difficult to pinpoint and that New Psychotropic Substances ‘NPS’ that are highly potent avoid detection as the quantity found in the blood remains too low for identification. In Europe as of 2014 there were around 356 such substances in use thereby taxing the early warning system (12 (pg.12));

  1. reduce the adverse impact on drug users come of alienation, stigmatization, conviction and adulteration of drugs consumed;

  1. create space for users to evolve an association that is functional and realistic with the space to mature out or be drug free;

  1. make it possible that those who want to experiment with drugs have a space where their journey is safe and guided without any sudden exposure to adulterated hard drugs;

  1. provide scope for normalization of drugs in some manner. Accepting cultural drug use may be difficult, but it can at least offer space for safe associations or realistic knowledge to evolve.

When the United Nations through its conventions opted for controlling drug use and trade by classifying it as a crime, it was opting for a uniform framework to control a complex, diverse and dynamic issue, a diversity noted not just across the globe but within a country or region. Focus on force or punitive approach to rein in human craving for altered states of consciousness or a simple ‘high’ has only made this complex reality more difficult to manage.

An affirmation of this fact comes from the World Drug Report (2021) indicating that the complexity of the drug issue makes it difficult to forecast the extent of the drug using population by 2030, the year for attaining Sustainable Development Goals, and hence the tentative population growth across the globe is used to indicate the change in drug using population. Based on this assumption the drug using population is projected to be 83 million for Africa, 4 million (same as in 2018) for Oceania, 86 million for Asia, 68 million for North America, 39 million in Europe and 19 million in Latin America and Caribbean. Europe is the only region with a reduction in number of users from 42 million to 39 million (13).

 At present, cannabis, the most commonly used drug with 200 million users, has the report indicate that while its use is stabilizing or declining in Western and Central Europe, North America, and parts of Oceania, there has been a reported increase in cannabis use across Africa and Asia.

Around 62 million used opioids (opiates and pharmaceutical / synthetic opioids for non-medical purposes) with the highest prevalence of users in North America (3.6 percent), followed by Near and Middle East/South West Asia (3.2 percent) and Oceania (2.5 percent). While Asia has a lower prevalence rate 2 percent, given the population profile 58 percent of the global opiate using population reside in the region.

There were around 27 million amphetamine users, 20 million ecstasy users and 20 million cocaine users. In addition, there is an expansion in the dynamic market of synthetic drugs and medical use of pharmaceutical drugs. In recent years hundreds of New Psychotropic Substances have been synthesized and use of New Psychotropic Substances, mainly stimulants, followed by cannabinoids and opioids have been reported. NPS opioids have caused serious health concerns, specifically fentanyl analogues in North America and the non-medical use of tramadol in Africa (ibid). Death related to fentanyl is also reported in Europe, especially Estonia (12).

In spite of the best efforts to enforce a criminal approach to control trade and use, the diversity of drugs available is expanding, as is its potency. World Drug Report (2021) did explore the impact of the pandemic and highlighted how anonymity and contactless interaction, is changing the profile of drug trade and sale on-line (ibid).

But this shift in trade is not solely for the pandemic, it is a natural shift because of the inroads the fourth industry is making in our lives - in governance, communication, trade, transportation, sale to end users and business in general. This can complicate the reality of drug use and trade and make it difficult for the criminalization approach to have any impact other than increasing the diversity of the products to choose from, creating a flux in platforms where sale happens, and strengthening and diversifying options for contactless purchase or sale.

A recent BBC news article focused on how google street view shot accidentally facilitated the arrest of a wanted Italian mafia boss in Europe, the man was shocked on being identified as to avoid police he had not even spoken to his family in ten years (14), it certainly indicates the subtle but far reaching way in which technology is gaining grounds not just in enforcement initiatives but in impacting the lives and profile of gangs and gangsters. When considering this along with evolving e-governance, the threat of the pandemic and with an already existing scope of continuous monitoring in China as part of e-governance, it reveals the extent to which technology can affect drug use/abuse/trade in the future, given its accuracy, speed and scale.

It is against this evolving reality that there is a move towards identification and punishment of functional users in the UK, specifically as taking away their official documents, passports or driver licences. All towards shaming or blaming; the end result being discrimination and alienation (15). According to the document ‘From Harm to Hope’, “…for adults taking recreational drugs, who are too often sheltered from serious violence, human exploitation, severe addiction and crime of the drugs trade, there will be tougher consequences which will be felt more strongly than today…sanctions… such as curfews or the temporary removal of passports or driving licenses or increased fine”s (16)

It is in this context this paper seeks to look at what could be the impact of the fourth industry on drug use and trade in the decades to come and why it would be so. It is also a plea for a rationale approach drug use management as otherwise the implication would be deep and far too wide to be palatable to anyone, maybe not even to the pharmaceutical industry, which may be the only group that stands to gain from the punitive approach in the long run.

I.Drug trade, sale and enforcement activities: Anonymity and contactless transaction would be name of the game at all levels, trade, sale, purchase, monetary transaction through cryptocurrencies to privacy coins- all towards ensuring anonymity. Even online interaction on the clear web can ensure anonymity purely by the sheer scale of the transaction and trade that occurs for legit products giving scope for illicit trade to merge with the same for anonymity, digital innovation along with automation would ensure secure speedy delivery, unless there is specific information that disrupts the market and trade. In case the clear web (open network) turns risky there is the option of using the dark web or darknets where interaction is protected and individuals need a password to access information on the site.

According to the World Drug Report (2021), on clear web the online vendors, platforms and manufacturers are apt to be flexible, diverse, and quick to adjust to changes in legislation regarding drugs, precursors or other chemicals. For example, they change the chemical components of the substances they sell or rather disguise it, till enforcement agencies take further action. They increase the assortment of products they sell, to include synthetic drugs, NPS, and dissociative drugs that have effects similar to ketamine. They change their advertisement strategies, include image search to indicate what is sold, instead of naming the drug they use their chemical nomenclature, market drugs as research chemicals or advertise that the company provides customized synthesis(ibid).

With regard to the sale of traditional drugs, heroin, ATS, cannabis and cocaine it is confined to anonymized platforms in deep web or darknets. Online customers ensure their privacy by using an onion router as Tor and make payments with cryptocurrencies, bitcoins or privacy coins or through wire transfer (ibid).

These changes would mean enforcement activities and skills needed will change, the absence of intermediaries will make detection difficult, human intelligence would need to focus on analysis through AI and ways of making Natural Language Processing (NLP) more apt for the specific task.

This may turn an uphill task if darknets are used, where instead of the actual name of the drug chemical nomenclature or its modifications may be used. Besides traffickers or gangsters would not want to be known and feared, nor would they be keen to display with pride their activities or their own dark side. This could lead to a profile change in gangs and gangsters with the educated and tech savvy who would distance themselves at any cost from their illegal activities or merge it with their legal activities. As though an indication of this changed scenario there have been seizures of large consignments of drugs, heroin in Gujarat, India, or Cocaine in European port (17) transported as any other consignment.

II.Changing profile of Traders or actors in the field:

Earlier, it was rare to come across the educated, tech savvy gangster, but this would change for being tech savvy would be a necessary skill to survive in the drug trade or other activities linked to it. While tracking mobile communication is utilized to establish links and catch those involved, this may become difficult with encrypted messages expanding their scope along with the use of codes, and AI may take time to catch on, for relevant timely detection. With virtual money gaining popularity, trying to trace disproportionate wealth can be difficult, besides, educated and tech savvy, individuals would find it easy to set up virtual non-existent businesses or create one functional enough to escape any prying eyes.

Anonymity would be the name of the game, with avatars that can changed to meet the desire to avoid identification. It would be in total contradiction to that standard format for gangs or trafficking groups wanting to be known and feared. Physical dispute settling would lose its charm, for in many instances there wouldn’t even be the need for dispute as just a change in the code for communications or manner of accessibility can throw an individual out of the loop. Such individuals wouldn’t be at risk, for the police or any legal agency would only get minimal outdated information. Of course, there is the possibility of disputes being settled between avatars in the virtual world, which could turn a good virtual real time advertising and marketing strategy.

The use of drones would be another option to ensure anonymity and it would reduce the need for humans in the loop and curtail detection risks. It would also prevent the criminal justice system from playing a significant role in conviction or ensuring participation in treatment programs. For users often get caught when having the drug on person, after a purchase when they are most vulnerable as in need of a quick fix or smoke. With doorstep delivery by drones, this risky situation can be avoided to a large extent. While these changes are far more in tune with developed countries or those countries where technology has made many inroads, even other countries may not be too unfriendly to these activities, as the mobile set is improving its profile on a regular basis.

These changes may have an effect on the present urban-rural divide, especially when individuals opt for online work, less taxing than the travel to work option, with choosing to stay in less expensive neighbourhoods there is a chance that the urban area then may not be significantly different from rural areas with regard to the popularity of drugs.

III. Drug use control

As trade would become complex and difficult to regulate, the management of drug use would also be an uphill task and the desire for easily accessible empirical choices would lead to the present form of prevention being taken over by surveillance. Even the identification of genetic vulnerabilities could gain ground as a long term micro management strategy, in line with the present emphasis on individual based personalized care. Already there are companies that want their job entrant to be drug free and one way to ensure that would be through testing.

Once within the system of surveillance the drug user would find it impossible to get out of it, as computer databases rarely forgets an instance. Discrimination, alienation and segregation would be a lifelong reality with the only option being maintenance on society’s given drug of choice or being drug free in a monitored manner within a surveillance reality.

The differentiation of users as functional, experimental, occasional, daily and excessive users would lose its relevance, for the chance of detection and identification as a drug user is the same for every type of drug user. Often the detection would be carried out without users consent and may even occur without the user’s knowledge, even though their lives would totally change upon detection. Human rights violations in these instances may begin to seem like part of a routine governance strategy or routine tasks carried out at the micro level for macro level management.

The recovery process would no longer be diverse, based on the individual’s choice, instead controlled pathways would be provided for the user to get on that journey of being drug free. Drug centres for care would also be places where surveillance methods of various kinds would be implemented and this could change the profile of many existing drug centres for care. It is possible that many centres may consider surveillance a positive option as it would reduce the need for different strategies in the user’s recovery process. There would be a wall of separation between drug user and the treatment/intervention professionals. The scope for open and safe privacy based therapeutic interactions with professionals would be difficult.

Career options and job placements which is seen as part of the recovery process would no longer be something ex-drug users can explore on their own. For their drug history would be available to the prospective employer through surveillance databases, accessible to those in the loop. The opportunity for change would be chosen for them, and if previous history in this regard is any indicator, their scope for a successful career would always remain a distant dream and it is highly likely they would turn a source for cheap labour.

IV. Role of normalization of use as against a drug free society:

The emphasis on criminalization, even a diluted version of it is a reflection of faith in or desire to have drug free society. An ambition that negates the human reality, human beings have always sought different ways to alter their consciousness, the only difference, today, is that, it is a well-established business, in which some substances are licit and others are not. The underlying assumption behind the criminal approach to use force so as to protect user and society at large, is a narrow point of view.

Hoping for a drug free world is unrealistic, unlike in yesteryears when mind altering substances as plants and its products were but a handful now MAS arrive in numerous types, forms and may be born in labs, with a short life span. These products may be off the shelves or platform before enforcement agencies even have a clue about its presence, the capacity of these products to be disguised as licit ones will make any enforcement task difficult.

Any focus on a drug free world, would have but one aim detecting deviants from the norm and it is here fourth industry creations come in handy for surveillance and detection. There is a dark side to this for it would mean all users irrespective of whether they are experimental, occasional, functional or regular users all stand the risk of detection and being marked for intervention at any time. It would mean that the differentiation as various types of users would lose its meaning for those involved in care, users themselves, support structures of users and society as a whole. 

This exists in many countries that aim for a drug free society, as it does in Sweden. Here there is coercive care which can last up to six months, a choice that is made not just on the medical condition of user but also if it is feared that he/she can cause injury to self or others. Police being empowered to undertake bodily examination in the form of urine or blood specimen test on grounds of suspicion. Repressive policies of drug control exist and with a growing emphasis on e-governance these may become harsher with limited concerns for rights of the user (18).

Is this relevant, let’s explore?

  • Normalization and Drug Use in the Past:

Our association with mind altering substances is not recent, in the past different cultures offered space within its society for members to interact with mind altering substances and its products. It may be of interest to briefly focus on the same.

  • Certain MAS were given specific position of acceptance in society, for example the use of cannabis for medicinal and cultural reasons in India (19) and Nepal (20), early uses of hemp in Europe (21) and use of hallucinogenic mushroom in Peru (22).

  • In India, sanctioned use was, by and large, more liberal for the adult male, restricted for women and prohibited for children. Sanctioned use for male members was not without regulations, be it in terms of methods of consumption, occasions for use, time for use, the setting within which use happened. Drug consumption was but one of the activities that occurred alongside many an other. For women the sanctions for drug use was restricted to - when taken as a medicine or in its least potent form during a celebration, such as ‘bhang’ in India or the use of opium for medicinal purposes (23,24).

  • As consumption was not hidden, over use or deviation would have observers intervene, especially as adults, friends or community members. Community elders would try to correct the deviation or co-users would indicate the need for moderation. It gave an opportunity for the user to understand his association with drugs and work through it. Discrimination and alienation were not as cruel as it is today, and correction was a continuous process, not something that occurred after a person became completely dysfunctional, and hence offered reasonable scope for positive change. This did not mean addicted individuals were non-existent, but rather that it restricted the same.

  • Self-knowledge influences many psychological processes, according to (Epstein, 1972) self-views affect our view of the world. This was further emphasized by Markus (1977) according to whom self-view held on to with great certainty function as Schemas, they are hypothetical knowledge structures that guide the processing of information. A person can hold on to different schemas (being dependent/independent, honest, kind, friendly ...) and if a person has a strong schema for independence, the person will process information regarding independence faster than others (27,28).

  • It is here that the relevance for a rational drug policy gains importance. Within the punitive approach to drug use management, users will most often be in a heightened state of fear with regard to detection and upon detection his/her entire life will revolve around dealing with stigmatization and alienation. Once the negative views regarding a drug user is internalized by a person, any change would be an uphill task. Especially as schemas also influence social perception, understanding of others, and influence our judgement of others and their work performance. Through space for normalization, it is possible for drugs users to get the opportunity to think beyond that sense of alienation and discrimination or find ways to deal with it.

  • This may not be the reality when drug trade and sale move largely to online platforms, the scope for any normalization process evolving would be difficult, unless specific efforts are taken in this regard.

  • A crucial process of normalization is evolving knowledge of self, be it in relationship to others and/or with oneself. Within this context it is relevant to consider what Kant said about knowledge creation, knowledge is possible through synthesis, ‘…the act of putting different representations together, and grasping what is manifold in them, in one knowledge’. Synthesis requires the mind to generate temporal spatial structures, associate spatio-temporally structured objects with other spatio-temporally structured items, and it must recognize concepts and categories in particular. This process can be disturbed during hallucination and when under intense tension or fear, a state that may be a frequent part of drug user’s life, especially when drug use is considered a crime (25,26)

  • There is a need to focus on normalization, especially with drugs that are less addictive or potent, such as Cannabis. Normalization can lead to smoother interaction between society and drug users, this may ensure the space needed for individuals to satisfy their desire for altered states of consciousness or just enjoy a high with soft drugs that are not physically addictive like say Heroin. It can facilitate the creation of a setting for the normalization of drug use within specific schema based on the socio cultural and political reality of the given country. This is just not the same as the traditional use of drugs, but after decades of the punitive approach this may the only hope for evolving a rational approach within society with social norms playing a relevant role as much as the law, if not one more significant.

  • Normalization did exist in traditional forms of drug use, be it as specifying the form of use, space for use, occasion for use, age and gender, purity, quantity and the form it was consumed in (29). This led to the creation and sustenance of social norms that restrict excessive use, which cannot be replaced by law. Unlike law, the regulation did not happen at just one instance, in social forms of use there is an informal monitoring that does not create distancing or isolation.

  • The punitive or criminal approach to drug use management when implemented within the growing influence of the digital world, would consider surveillance as the most important tool and its central focus would be to identify any instance of use.

  • Differentiation based on type of drug use, occasions of use, functionality, frequency of use, purpose of use would all lose meaning. These are differences that are crucial to the process of maturing out of drug use or moving out of drug use through interventions from within or outside the institutional setting. A person rarely becomes an addict on one instance of drug use, just as continued use is the process that strengthens the association between user and the drug, moving away from drugs is also a process that requires room for manoeuvring and it is only normalization of drug use that will offer this space not criminalisation.

  • Drug settings for the use of hard drugs on the streets and other spots do offer opportunities for the drug user to evolve self-knowledge regarding user associations with different substances, a space for narratives to develop and create knowledge regarding forms of use, ways of use, ways to reduce use, be functional, prevent infections, information on which drugs can be mixed or can’t be, which gives a pleasant experience or a bad trip, the context to enjoy a high, company that makes a trip pleasant, to be aware about the possibility for shift from any experimental use, to occasional, functional, regular use or to being unable to think beyond drugs and ways to reverse the journey at different levels.

  • This body of self-knowledge about one’s own association with drugs, evolved with time and cannot be taught at one instance. It is this body of knowledge that exists in different forms when drugs are used within the traditional or cultural setting. This space is also offered in drug dens or spots where drug users meet away from the public eye or in spaces that are avoided by public. The scope for self-knowledge is central to prevent overdose deaths, ignorant consumption of drugs, and to ensure the system is not caught off guard with high instances of overdose deaths.

  • When digital reality takes over our drug abuse/use management, monitoring, unsafe neighbourhoods favoured by the drug using population may be a thing of the past. While functional, experimental or occasional users may find avatars and virtual world to gather knowledge, dysfunctional and addicted individuals may find such possibilities evading them leaving them in extremely vulnerable positions. This need has to be addressed through a pragmatic approach to avoid death due to overdose or inadequate access to information.

  • Even users who depend on digital reality, will be accessing information in locations insulated from the live dynamics of the real world and this may affect the knowledge created, its retention, and scope for being available for synthesis. Besides, the number of individuals able access and be part of virtual reality may be a small percentage of the drug using population and that too from select countries.

  • At present countries that are for decriminalisation and harm minimisation are offering some form of normalization process, be it through coffee shops (Netherlands), or provision of space for use or silent sanction of the same (Portugal, Czech or parts of US) but if the trend moves towards stricter sanctions and digital reality has the final say these options will be disturbed as the option for the purchase of licit cannabis is nil or limited. Of course, when on growing for self-use (sanctioned or not) indoor cultivation would still be inadequate to meet the local demand. Hence, even when decriminalization occurs drug availability is sustained by its link with illicit trade.

  • The normalization process of cannabis use in Netherland has been documented, it indicates that from the first initial setting up of coffee shops to its subsequent replication across different municipalities, the role of the law was minimal. It occurred for an initiative by cannabis users, using friends and society’s tolerance for the shift, provided certain basic norms were adhered to: as no sale of hard drugs, sale only to adult consumers and keeping sales within the daily quota per coffee shop, per person.

  • Even in the case of hard drugs, the harm minimization process addresses the needs of users, be it as a place to consume drugs away from public view, options for treatment, provision of housing, social security and training (30).

V. Other changes that could happen

In the years to come the entire of body of knowledge revolving around drug use, trade, treatment, prevention will change, as would research methodology except for when there is scope for interviews with drug users or traders. Researchers would need to have some understanding of how the fourth industry functions, the languages used, the growing influence of Bayesian statistics, Natural Language Processing(NLP) its assets and limitation. Some the obvious shifts and reasons could be:

  1. Unsafe neighbourhoods could become a reality of the past, that would mean the ethnographic approach to understand drug use and trade at the street level will change.

  1. Anonymity and contactless transactions would mean the user and vendor interaction, could be isolated and inputs regarding the potency and harmful effects could be limited; something that users on streets depend on to protect themselves and to have some sort of consumer rights, even if limited. In the changed context, only when health hazards lead to the hospitalization of many would professionals and the system be altered to the crisis, there will be no advance notice for any precautionary measures.

  1. Seizures at present indicate plant-based drugs especially the herb form is often the largest seizures made, though in terms of drug content the quantity may come down (16. WDR). Being bulky and distinct the chances of disguising it may be more difficult than the effort needed to pass heroin as some other licit substance. It is not just the traders but users too would have difficulty in hiding their drug use habit given its odour and distinct characteristics. This may lead to a shift to drugs that are potent and easy to hide for both, the user and trader.

  1. Synthetic drugs, pharmaceutical substances and similar new drug entrants will have the scope for anonymity during the entire cycle of creation, production, trade, sale, on platforms for marketing whether retail or wholesale, that is anonymity from source to end. Use will only come to the public eye when there is a health crisis. Given the influence of AI in the knowledge base of chemistry, in the long run given the chances of new drugs or new derivatives or combinations entering the market, drug control may be a difficult and impossible task.

  1. Thus, just as there is a need for positive peace measures in society, there is a need to consider the role of mind in being drug free or a functional user. This aspect is totally ignored when the criminal approach with an emphasis on uniform and universal regulation is opted for.


 While drug free society may be a dream for some, historical facts and diverse cultural practices indicate that it be unrealistic, for mind-altering substances have evolved as a successful trade possibility with specific clientele. It would be more pragmatic for United Nations and Member States to look at the long-term implications of the present policy, for current decisions could determine whether drug users of the future have an option outside the world of surveillance, discrimination, isolation and being marked as drug users for life.

The policy makers also need to consider what would be implication of this for governance, will faith in surveillance be opted for as the easy way forward? That would that mean a redefinition of human rights and privacy considerations. Will consideration of the future mean ensuring space for knowledge that is inclusive, humane, diverse dissuading discrimination and labeling or will it be the creation of surveillance as the base for prevention, directly or indirectly facilitating drugs that are potent, increasing the vulnerability of drug users, turning prevention, treatment, after care, imprisonment/correctional measures and enforcement into a never ending vicious circle with no way out with only interested pharmaceutical companies having a field day. After all the pharmaceutical industry is a very powerful group that even managed to ensure weaker sanctions in United Nations Convention 1971 through lobbying, they ensured their products escaped control (18).

But, given the diversity of drugs available that are capable of altering the mind and the scope for pharmaceutical companies to add more further on, the process of adding on drugs as part of Scheduled Drugs would lose its meaning in terms of realistic implementation of the law.

Given this reality, the choice is ours to make, or yours to make as those positioned to make decisions on governance or mobilize voices towards a relevant drug policy.


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  1. Ximene REGO, Maria Joao OLIVERA, Catarina LAMEIRA and Olga.S. Cruz. 2021. 20 Years of Portuguese Drug Policy-developments, challenges and the quest for human rights.   



  1. Anuradha.K.V.N.L. 2001. The Flawed Act in Seminar. August 504:48-55

  1. Charles Molly. 2001. Drug Trade in Himachal Pradesh, Role of Socio-Economic changes in Economic and Political Weekly. June 30; 26:2433-2439.

  1. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2014) European Drug Report- Trends and Development, EMCDDA (Luxembourg).

  1. UNODC. 2021. World Drug Report 2021. Booklet (2) United Nations Publication Sales No.E.21.XI.8).

UNODC. 2021. World Drug Report 2021. Booklet (1) United Nations Publication Sales No.E.21.XI.8).

  1. BBC.News. 2022. Italian mafia boss caught after Google Maps sighting in spain

  1. Grierson Jamie. 2021. Middle Class drug users could lose UK passports under Boris Johnson’s plans. The Guardian 6th Dec 2021.

  1. H.M Government.2021. From harm to hope- A 10 year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives.

  1. First Post. 2021. Nearly 3 tonnes of heroin seized from Mundra port Seizure containers port: Eight biggest drug busts in the world. First Post. Sept 2021.

  1. UNODC.2007. Sweden’s Successful Drug Policy: A Review of the Evidence

  1. Hasan A Khwaja.1975. Social Aspects of the use of Cannabis in India in Cannabis and Culture. Vera Rubin ed. Mouton Publishers: Paris.

  1. Fisher James 1975.Cannabis in Nepal- An Overview in Cannabis and Culture. Vera Rubin. Ed. Mouton Publishers: Paris

  1. Sula Benet.1975. Early Diffusion and Folk Use of Hemp in Cannabis and Culture. Vera Rubin. ed. Mouton Publishers: Paris

  1. De Rios Dobkin Marlene 1975. Man Culture and Hallucinogens: An Overview in Cannabis and Culture. Vera Rubin ed. Mouton Publishers: Paris.

  1. Charles Molly. Masihi. E.J., H.Y.Siddiqui and 1994. Culture and Drug Abuse and Some Reflections on the family. In Bulletin of Narcotics. 46: 59-76

  1. Charles Molly. Nair.K.S. Britto Gabriel. 1999. Drug Culture in India- A street ethnographic study of heroin addiction in Bombay. Jaipur: Rawat Publishers.

  1. Kant Immanuel 1991. Critique of Pure Reason. Everyman’s library: Great Britain


  1. Epstein.S.1972. The self-concept revisited or a theory of a theory. American Psychologist,28, 404-416.

  1. Markhus. H. 1977. Self-Schemata and processing information about self. Journal of Personality and social psychology 35; 64-78

  1. Charles Molly. 2007. Cannabis and Culture: Impact of Drug Policy on Drug Use and Drug Trade

PhD. Thesis

       (It is as submitted for the degree, which was awarded in 2006)

  1. Grund Jean Paul and Breeksema Joost 2013 Coffee shops and Compromise. Separated Illicit Drug Markets in Netherlands. Open Society Foundation: Netherlands.


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