Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine.

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine. – Carl Jung”

Smoking of Cannabis in India has been in practice since time memorial. Cannabis and its many end products like marijuana, charas and bhang were legally sold in India until the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act, 1985) came into force. Before this, consumption of these drugs was not considered socially unexpected and their consumption was considered in the same way as the consumption of alcohol is considered today. The upper-class Indians regarded charas and marijuana as the intoxicants for the poor but at the same time, they also consumed bhang on the festivals of Holi and Shiv Ratri.

History and Enactment of NDPS Act, 1985

This NDPS Act, 1985 came into force because of the indirect external pressure from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom for banning narcotic and psychotropic substances throughout the world.[1] The government of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi gave way and ratified the act thus forbidding all narcotics throughout India. However, the external pressure was not the sole reason behind the implementation of the act. India signed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which happened to be an international treaty. Its object was to prevent the production and sale of specific narcotic substances.

This Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances bill became a law after it got consent from then President Giani Zail Singh in November 1985. The amendments have been made in this act thrice in 1988, 2001 and 2014 since its enactment. The act is applicable in entire India including Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. It is also applicable to the Indian citizens living outside India and all the people on Indian ships and aircrafts.

NDPS, 1985 today

This legislation of 1985 has gained significant momentum in 2020 during the lockdown for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the entire nation. It is because several actors of the prestigious Bollywood industry are being questioned by the Narcotics Control Bureau. Therefore it becomes necessary to know about the law which makes the prestigious film industry of India stand in the stockade.

Purpose of the NDPS Act, 1985    

The main objective of the act is to make it illegal for a person to produce/cultivate, possess, sell, purchase, transport, store, or consume any of the narcotic and psychotropic substances. For this purpose, the act has the provision to establish the Narcotics Control Bureau. This Bureau was established immediately after the enactment in 1986.

The NDPS Act, 1985

The NDPS Act comprises of five chapters. The first chapter is the preliminary chapter. Like any other legislation in India, it also defines the terms that are being used in the legislation. It introduces and defines various narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. It also mentions the power of the central government to add and subtract substances to the records mentioned in the Act.

The subsequent chapter deals with the authorities and officers that have been established under the legislation. It mentions the directions to the central government for the appointment of a Narcotics Commissioner, set up a Consultative Committee for Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and also to financially aid the National Fund for Control of Drug Abuse.

The third chapter mentions the proscription, management and supervision of the list of substances presented in the first chapter. It proscribes the production of the coca plant, opium poppy, or cannabis. These rights are vested with both state and central government to formulate the laws later. This chapter prohibits all inter-state and international smuggling of such substances. At last, this chapter also includes the regulation on the substances that can be used to manufacture narcotic drugs. It mentions the circumstances in which substances like opium, coca plant and cannabis can be cultivated legally.

The penultimate unit that is Chapter four provides with the crimes and penalties in the NDPS Act, 1985. It includes the time period of punishments for the offenses that can be committed under the legislation. These offenses include possession or ownership of the proscribed substances, both for commercial and non-commercial or recreational purpose, cultivation or production of these substances and their smuggling both international and inter-state.

The fifth and final chapter mentions the procedure to deal with the cases and the guidelines for the officers appointed under this act.    

Criticisms of the NDPS Act, 1985

This act has been a piece of criticism because it was introduced under international pressure and due to this, there have been flaws in this act. There is no clear mention of what to do with natural growing cannabis. Furthermore, people are able to get bhang legally because it is not mentioned in the act. The consumption of Bhang is still prevalent during the festivals of Holi and Shiv Ratri.

This act has also been criticized for not giving the required margin for medical purposes. But this criticism has been done away with in 2014. The amendment in 2014 created a list of essential narcotics. As mentioned in the act, the states have the power to permit the production of these substances. Using this power, Uttarakhand has allowed the production of marijuana for industrial purposes.

Still, there are some flaws in the act that can be removed but nevertheless, the legislation had an important impact on Indian society to do away with these kinds of substances.


[1] “The joint campaign: Should we not legalize recreational use of Cannabis? – Times of India

Tushita Maheshwari- RGNUL, Punjab

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