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Briefing paper: Drug Policy in India: Compounding Harm?

As signatories to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, many Asian countries have been required to move away from longstanding approaches to control customary drug use. In many respects, there has been a subsequent shift from traditional drug use management to an emphasis on eradicating all drug use and trade. The implementation of law-enforcement-dominated policies has generated a tense relationship between contemporary legislation and culturally ingrained drug use patterns and associated management strategies. This Briefing Paper explores the Indian case, where the situation has been compounded by a number of interrelated factors: rising popularity of non-traditional forms of drug use, urbanisation and leakage from illicit drug production in the region.

Contemporary international drug policy seeks to control both the demand and supply of drugs through the criminalisation of production, trafficking and use. Furthermore, adherence to the United Nations drug control conventions ensures that most nation states adopt a similar prohibition-oriented approach when formulating national drug control legislation. Recent research suggests that this can be problematic in some Asian countries where longstanding cultural sanctions already existed for drug use; particularly those involving psychoactive plant products such as cannabis and opium.