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Holier Than Thou

We worship drugs and alcohol

The labyrinthine existence of Cannabis in Hindu mythology, as a part of Lord Shiva’s recreation, has persuaded the dutiful to puff the butt and harness his sanctity. Even during the colonial times, this intoxicating ‘prasad’ was customarily available when accompanied with a prescription. Another ancient decoction of herbs ‘somras’ has been classified anachronistic and has been replaced with a cooler slang ‘alcohol’. But in 1961, the malicious United Nations imposed a sweeping prohibition on drug supply and use for 25 years, equating Cannabis with other hard drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Later in 1985, our gullible legislation also set up the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, phasing out all recreational drugs. But we ‘quick-witted’ people managed to spot a loophole in the definition of Cannabis during both times and rode the wave by only using seeds and leaves.

Apart from the nausea, lethargy, hallucination of being a celebrity or even a euphoric feeling of being in the Elysian Fields, the derivatives of cannabis like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are used by doctors to aid treatment of various maladies. It improves the appetite of HIV/AIDS patients, provides relief during radiation therapy and chemotherapy and even stops the growth of certain kinds of tumors.1 In 1997, AIIMS called for nullification of the cannabis ban for medicinal research. This demand served as an opportunity to fulfill the suppressed desire of drug addicts. Since then, a passionate debate of legalizing drugs in the country has arisen.

People started demanding legalization of Cannabis. “If cigarettes, alcohol and tobacco are legal, why not marijuana?” they questioned unsettlingly. In fact, a study conducted by University of California, San Francisco found out that cannabis is less harmful than tobacco. An alcohol overdose can kill a person in 5 minutes but there are no confirmed fatalities from a weed overdose. But let’s put our caps of practicality on our heads. Why pin another social evil when the board is already full? The truth is ‘1 out of 6 teenagers’ and ‘1 out of 14 adults’ are addicted to marijuana. There is a direct relation between vehicular accidents and cannabis. 2 The real question is, do you want to spike a syringe everyday to remain satisfied?

Injected with highly potent doses

One cannot gainsay that prohibition would be ineffectual. Elimination of such a market is arduous, if not considered impossible. It may shrink but a substantial black market will reinforce the regular supply again. Corruption and violence would drastically unfurl. On the flip side, legalization would regulate the availability, THC (the constituent causing the “high”) levels can be controlled, prices can be adjusted and the economy can foster. As drugs would be openly discussed, they would no longer be considered “cool” to consume. But not all ideas succeed in reality.

In the late 1990s, the deadly Opioid epidemic cursed the US. It wasn’t legally addressed until 2016. Opioid is a pain-relieving drug which has addictive properties similar to opium. The union government forced doctors who were not members of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to prescribe opioids through their adopted ‘Pain as the Fifth Vital Sign’ management strategy in the 1990s and 2000s. Sometimes, government units loosened access to opioids after lobbying from drug companies. Between 1995 and 2015, a death toll larger than the population of Atlanta was noted as a result of opioid overdose. According to the National Institute on Drug abuse, roughly 128 people in the United States died every day of excessive addiction to opioid painkillers in 2018. The US was bogged down with its failed efforts of regulating drugs. Legalization brought in far more losses than prohibition. 3

Portugal is often cited as a success story for drug ‘legalization’. The reality is that it ‘decriminalized’ drugs in July 2001, but it never ‘legalized’. It was the first country to decriminalize the possession and consumption of all felonious substances. A person found with heroin was not treated as a criminal; he was warned, charged with a small fine and treated as a patient. Though HIV infection plunged from 104.2 cases per million in 2000 to 4.2 cases per million in 2015, the consumption of drugs increased by 4.2% and the number of homicides related to drugs increased by 40% as a result of decriminalization.

In reality, legalization of all drugs by the government would be analyzed by the public as an ‘encouragement’. It will increase the crime rate and the mortality rate as people intensify their dosage. Moreover, who wants to live in a country where the youth is stumbling forward to reach a syringe that is actually behind them?

Knock down Your Booze, Cough up Your Tax

Do you remember the day when the liquor shops opened for the first time during the lockdown? Thousands of people flogged to the shops and bravely risked their lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic, just to quench their feral thirst of contributing to the economy! The price hike by 70% didn’t even deter the partially unemployed tipplers from buying their drink. In fact, liquor prices in India are higher than 95% of the countries in the world. 5 I experienced an epiphany that according to the current trend, easily accessible and duty-free liquor would be something more valuable than the only life we have! Oxygen is secondary, initially we only require a syringe and a goblet whose contents last for at least a millennium.

States like Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, Nagaland and partially Manipur don’t sell alcohol. In these states, there certainly must be a developed network of local bootleggers who supply the needy of the inaccessible resources. This has even caused inter-state disparities. People in Bihar, particularly workers started moving to the neighboring state of Jharkhand in response to the booze ban. Bihar government suffered a major setback and Jharkhand was flooded with a new batch of consumers. But what if our government has a diabolical plan to upturn our lives by prohibiting alcohol? Would we run out of all our nation’s Kingfishers, Royal Stags, Grey Goose beers, Snow Leopard Wits and Lion beers? Well, not until all these animals get extinct!

The Bottle Is Not Empty

George Bernard Shaw once said “Whisky is liquid sunshine”. But in some cases whisky is liquidity. Approximately one-fifth of state budgets are funded by the sale of alcohol. In 2019-20(BE), the total excise duty earned by all states and 2 union territories (in ₹ crore) was 17, 55,01,422 . 6 In some states only excise duty and import/export/transport duty is paid for liquor. In states like Tamil Nadu, Value Added Tax is also charged and in states like Uttar Pradesh, an additional tax ‘cow cess’ is prevalent which aims at sheltering stray cows.

One must understand that prohibition of alcohol would be disastrous. It would only fuel black market exchange, unscrupulousness, quality counterfeit products and other consequences similar to prohibition of drugs. In India, imported spirits including those Bottled in Origin (BIO) and Bottled in India(BII) are taxed at both the federal and state levels. When the European Union charged a case against India’s liquor policy in WTO, some barriers to liquor imports were removed. Later on, new restrictive measures were introduced. The taxation level and accounting of liquor trade in all 29 states of India is slightly different; this causes enormous difficulties. Furthermore, consignments are blocked when labels only carry brand names and not the details like ‘manufactured by’, or even when details like ‘produced by’ is printed in a language other than English. About 35 million farmers are involved in the sugarcane industry and another 50 million workers from rural areas contribute to the alcohol industry. 7 If liquor was to be sold duty free, these farmers and workers would be poverty-stricken and the government would be mysteriously pick-pocketed. We would be generously imbibing the hard work of these farmers while unknowingly burying their bodies in the ground.

The highest consumption of alcohol is from the low and middle-income groups. A drunkard would drink his pint, rain or shine. The only deterioration will be observed in the nutritional status of his family. The government must launch programs educating uninformed youth about alcoholism and its consequences. Once, an expectant multitude demanded ‘subsidized alcohol’ at least for people below the poverty line. In a mocking response to these self-seeking individuals, umpteen efforts should first of all be made to give them ‘subsidized electricity’ and ‘full time water supply’. After all, alcohol cannot light their bulbs, supposing they are not amateur scientists. This is simply the ‘alcohol economy’!

By Hima Chopra
Senior Secondary Student, Father Agnel School, Noida



REFERENCES

1 https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/medical-marijuana-faq

2 https://www.thequint.com/lifestyle/decriminalise-marijuana-for-hiv-and-cancer-patients

3 https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/4/20/15328384/opioid-epidemic-drug-legalization

4 https://www.wfad.se/latest-news/1-articles/123-decriminalization-of-drugs-in-portugal–the-real-facts

5 https://www.cppr.in/centre-for-comparative-studies/a-study-on-liberalizing-liquor-trade-in-india

6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnlwrmHkioo

7 https://www.cppr.in/centre-for-comparative-studies/a-study-on-liberalizing-liquor-trade-in-india

Other references

Indian State Moves To Decriminalize Drugs

https://theweek.com/articles/445005/why-all-drugs-should-legal-yes-even-heroin

https://www.debatingeurope.eu/focus/arguments-legalising-drugs/#.Xucu79UzZ0w

Should drugs be legalised?

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/bihar-liquor-prohibition-spells-happy-hours-in-jharkhand/story-kG3MdhRR6SQJLp8wUnU5iO.html

https://www.hindustantimes.com/patna/bihar-claims-steep-decline-in-murders-rapes-post-booze-ban/story-PnxBh5H9sXa8uLYORJyoLP.html

https://theprint.in/opinion/when-india-legalises-weed/66245/ https://www.thequint.com/news/india/the-quint-says-yesto-weed-why-indias-ban-on-ganja-is-an-irony

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/the-alcohol-economy/article20697419.ece1 https://www.greenfacts.org/en/alcohol/l-2/05-social-economic-problems.htm

https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/is-decriminalisation-of-marijuana-in-india-a-better-move

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ludhiana/decriminalize-regulated-use-of-traditional-drugs/articleshow/70888204.cms

https://www.creativecareinc.com/blog/what-would-happen-if-all-drugs-were-legal

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/4/20/15328384/opioid-epidemic-drug-legalization

https://eewiki.newint.org/index.php/If_all_drugs_were_legal,_what_would_happen%3F

https://thewire.in/health/cannabis-marijuana-india-legal – india 2019

https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/25-years-of-reforms-the-role-of-hard-liquor/story-bMc7c7FgdrWhJrRUaRVaKP.html

https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/the-cocktail-party-of-india-will-fight-for-the-right-to-booze/story-jjiHGPyJQtMPyxXcdRixzN.html

https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/bihar-booze-ban-the-glass-won-t-be-empty-for-too-long-now/story-9ja2oZawh0mtuhBK9PIy7H.html

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