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Sikkim disease tag on drug use

Pawan Chamling

Gangtok: Marking a paradigm shift in its approach to tackling the menace of drug abuse in Sikkim, the government will soon bring about changes in the law de-criminalising the use of contraband substances and, instead, treating it as a disease.

The amended law will also enhance the punishment meted out to drug peddlers and traffickers.

Addressing a traditional Lepcha programme at Saramsa, about 15km from here on Wednesday, Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling indicated that the changes in the law were being brought about to tackle the problem of drug abuse and facilitate the treatment of drug users.

"The jail term for those trafficking in drugs will be increased, but the consumption of drugs will not be considered an offence. Drug use is an ailment, a disease. We will soon bring about changes in the law," he said.

According to the provisions of the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act, 2006, drug peddlers and traffickers can be sentenced to a jail term ranging from six months to five years and fined up to Rs 1 lakh depending on who is committing the crime and the severity of the offence.

A person found guilty of consuming drugs can be imprisoned for six months and fined up to Rs 20,000.

Chamling said once the drug users were stopped from being stigmatised as criminals, they would come out in the open and be receptive to treatment.

"If someone is a criminal, he will hide. If you are considered sick, the stigma of being criminal will not be there. We in Sikkim will not call those consuming drugs as criminals, but as patients. The government will provide them with treatment," he said.

Vishal Chauhan, the Sikkim health secretary, echoed the chief minister and said the changes in the law will help in the treatment of drug users.

"The government has also asked us to do a study on what are causes for drug abuse and how that can be checked," he said. He, however, was not immediately able to provide data on the extent of drug menace in the state.

The chief minister also said that efforts were being made to get in touch with Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt and get him to Sikkim to spread awareness of substance abuse.

Dutt has had a well documented problem with drug abuse early in his early life, but he eventually overcame the problem and has gone on to have a flourishing career in movies.

People working in the field of substance abuse have hailed the chief minister's announcement as a progressive step in tackling the problem of drug abuse.

"We have waited for this for long, but the wait is worth it. I wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the chief minister. The only point I am not comfortable with is the enhancement of punishment for drug peddlers because seven out of the 10 peddlers themselves are drug users, and they peddle drugs to fund their use," said K.C. Nima, the team leader of Freedom Facility, an NGO which works in the field of substance abuse.

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