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Introduction and Overview of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985

What are Narcotic Drugs?

The word narcotic refers to different types of substances which makes the senses less effective and soothes pain. Before now, some people refer to all drugs as narcotics, but nowadays narcotics refers to heroin, heroin derivatives and their semi-synthetic equivalents. These medications are also refer to as Opioid, which is more effective and causes less confusion about its meaning. For example, illicit drug heroin and prescription drugs such as Vicodin, codeine, morphine etc[1].

Often drugs are referred to as opioid pain relievers too. They are primarily used for severe pains which other pain killers do not treat. These medications can be constructive when used with caution and under close supervision of the health care provider in treating pain.

What are Psychotropic Substances?

It is an antidote that influences the functioning of the brain and induces alterations in mood, thoughts, emotions or actions. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, marijuana, and some medicines for pain are some examples of psychotropic substances. Many illicit narcotics like heroin, LSD, cocaine, and amphetamines are also psychotropic agents that are often referred to as psychoactive substances.[2].

What is the Act?

The legislative regulation over narcotic drugs was earlier being exercised under The opium Act 1852, The opium Act 1878 and the Hazardous Drugs Act 1930. Owing to the passage of time and changes in the field of illegal drug trafficking and substance addiction at national and international level, the provisions of these enactments were found to be insufficient.

A comprehensive legislation was necessary to reform and update previous laws relating to narcotic drugs. Accordingly, the parliament adopted the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill. It was passed in Lok Sabha on 23rd august 1985 and was enacted on 14th November 1985. The act has been amended 3 times till now in 1988, 2001 and 2014.

Purpose behind the Act

The Bill aims to achieve the following objectives

The punishment under the previous acts was not deterrent enough to meet the challenges of well-organized smuggling gangs. The 1930 Dangerous Drugs Act allows for up to 3 years imprisonment with or without fine and 4 years imprisonment with or without fine for recurring offences.

However, no mandatory penalty was imposed in the past existing rules, as a result of which drug dealers have been let off by nominal punishment. Over the last few years, the nation has been increasingly faced with the issue of drug transit traffic coming mainly from some of our neighboring countries and heading mainly to Western countries.

Past Existing Central laws did not provide for investing the officers of a variety of major Central Compliance agencies, such as Drugs, Customs, Central Excise, etc., with the power to invest offenses under the said rules.

Since the aforementioned three Core Acts were passed, a large body of narcotics-controlled international law has evolved through numerous international treaties and protocols. The Government of India has been a party to entail treaties and conventions that include numerous commitments that are not protected or only partly covered by the preceding acts.

New opioid medications that have become known as psychotropic substances have arrived on the scene in recent years and have created significant problems for national governments. There is no comprehensive legislation enabling regulation of psychotropic substances in India to be exercised in the manner provided for in the Psychotropic Substances Convention 1971.

In view of all the above limitations, need of comprehensive legislation for the regulation of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances was felt and demanded that penalties for trafficking in particular should be significantly increased, confiscation of properties originating from or used in illegal drug and psychotropic drug trafficking should be ensured, stringent provisions should be made for effective regulation of psychotropic substances and provisions should be made for the enforcement of international conventions on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

As a consequence, the bill was passed in the parliament and therefore Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substances Act 1985 was enforced.

Salient features of the Act:

Applicability: It is applicable to the whole of India, to all the Indians outside India and to all persons on ships and aircrafts registered in India.
Definitions: 36 terms has been defined by section 2 of the act:
  • addict means a person is highly dependent on any narcotic drug or psychotropic substances.[3]
  • cannabis (hemp) means ganja, that is cannabis plant flowering or fruiting tops without seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops, under whatever name they may be known or designated.
  • Even though in certain sections of the Act the term Central Government Factories is mentioned, it has not been defined in the Act until now. It is proposed to define Central Government Factories within the definition of Government Company under the Companies Act, so as to allow the Central Government the flexibility to restructure Government Opium.
The central government under the act is authorized to take necessary steps to prevent and counter substance addiction and illegal trafficking.

According to the act, The Central government is also authorized to constitute an advisory committee called “The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substances Consultative committee”.
The government and public contribution led to the formation of a fund known as “National Fund for control of Drug Abuse”.

Section 15 to 20 of the act deals with penalties for the offences under the act.

Punishment is given for any breach of provision in relation to poppy straw, coca plant, coca leaves, prepared opium, opium poppy, cannabis plant and cannabis, manufactured drugs, psychotropic substances etc.

Punishment is also given for illegal import into India or export from India, for violation of orders made under the act, for illegal possession of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances in small quantity and so on.

Offences under this act shall be cognizable means clearly identifiable and non bailable means serious offences.

Punishment: It is on the basis of quantity of banned substances

  • Where the crime requires a nominal amount of up to 1 year's imprisonment or a fine of up to 10,000 or both.
  • If the crime includes a quantity less than a commercial quantity but more than a significant quantity, with a serious jail sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to 1 lakh.
  • Where the offense includes a commercial amount, with a period of incarceration not less than 10 years but extending to 20 years and a fine not less than 1 lakh but extending to 2 lakhs.
  • Punishment for consumption of morphine, cocaine, heroin etc involves a maximum punishment of 1 year or fine of Rs 20,000 but when taken in small quantities, then maximum punishment is 6 months or fine of Rs.10,000.
  • Section 31A of the NDPS Act stipulates a mandatory death penalty after subsequent arrest for such drug offences. But Bombay High Court objected the constitutional validity of this section, despite that the government has neither abolished not amended section 31A in the NDPS (Amendment Bill).

Positive aspects of the Act

An important feature of the act is that the method of adding and withdrawing narcotics and psychotropic substances from the lists was made quite straightforward. For this reason, no formal bill or amendment is necessary and the government has been empowered to make these changes on the basis of available information or a simple notification in the official gazette.

As regards subparagraph 3 of section 4, the Central Government created the Narcotics Control Bureau in 1986 with the specific task of coordinating drug law enforcement nationally. The NCB basically functions as the national international liaison coordinator and as the nodal point for intelligence collection and dissemination and ensures coordinated implementation within the parameters of national strategy.

The power to issue search and arrest warrants has been vested in both the Magistrates as well as in specially appointed Central and State Governments officers as per the terms of the act. It is intended to ensure prompt and appropriate action in response to any information and to eliminate the need for judicial satisfaction if a warrant is issued. Thus, both timely and effective action is ensured in response to any information.

It treats hard and soft drugs as the same, for this many people opposed it during the discussion of the bill in the parliament.

The act was criticized in The Times of India, because due to the law offering the same penalty for all narcotics, the paper characterized the legislation as ill-conceived and poorly thought-out, which meant that dealers turned their attention to harder drugs, where profits are much greater.

In 2015, Lok Sabha MP Tathagata Satpathy attacked cannabis prohibition as elitist, and describing cannabis as the poor's intoxicant. He also thought the ban was an overreaction to a US-made threat.

It is commendable that the past 27 years have seen significant growth in the fight against drug dependency in particular in the areas of policy formulation and infrastructure development. What remains to be seen now is the efficacy and effects of the various steps which have been implemented. An assessment and subsequent adjustment of strategies and policies on the basis of successful research is imperative. Plans will be just that-plans, without any formal assessment.

Written By: Anaya Jain - BA.LLB

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