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In recent years, India's geographic position has been of great advantage to traders of illicit drugs.
India’s geographic position is unique – a gateway between the giant landmasses of Eurasia, and Africa on the west, and the entire South Eastern part of Asia. Historically, it was this geographic position, in addition to the natural resources of the country, that made India so attractive to merchants, traders, colonizers, and corporations. The geographic location that is the landmass of India, with her own rich internal markets, and the gateway to two markets on either side of the peninsula.
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In recent years, this geographic position has been of great advantage to another set of traders – altogether illegal – the traders of illicit drugs. India is the bridge between the golden crescent to the west, and the golden triangle to the east which together produce, 90% of the ‘world´s illicitly produced opiates’
. While there are no formal estimates for the total value of drug trade in India, we can hazard a guess from the amount of narcotics that have been seized. In 2011, the value of the drug trade in India was estimated at being between $2.2 Billion and $4.5 Billion (Rs 10,000-20,000 crore), though experts say there is no way of really telling. It isn’t as though the drug traders are filing tax returns, with detailed accounts on what they purchased, and what they sold.
Worldwide, it is the same story. It is estimated that the value of the illegal drug trade is around half a trillion dollars. And, it is the one industry that cuts across boundaries, and flourishes, whether it is boom time or recession. According to the World Drug Report, over a quarter billion people consumed illegal drugs in 2015, nearly 5% of the world population – the biggest chunk of this were the consumers of Cannabis – 183 million users. The War on Drugs, by all accounts, has failed, and governments across the world must try new tactics to curb the use and abuse of drugs.
Source: World Drug Report, 2017
Along with the trade in drugs comes a whole host of other issues, that threatens the very nature of state. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) believes that there four other equally important issues associated with the illicit drug trade. The first is corruption, as drug dealers pay vast amounts of kickbacks to secure their supply chain, and their markets. The second is organised crime, as underground organisations are set up to deliver a product to a waiting market. And, this organisation works with muscle, with guns, and bribes. The third important area is illicit cash flows – the process of converting ill gotten gains, into legitimate business, real estate, banks, start ups and more. And to do this they hire services of lawyers, accountants and bankers who do the necessary ‘black to white’ conversion. And, lastly you have the problem of terrorism. If you look at the drug map of the world, what you will see is the unvarnished truth – the drug trade thrives in areas beset by civil war, and terrorism. In India too, the areas with the most organised terror, sees the most drug trade.
Across the world, governments are trying different things to address the problem. And, the common thread that runs through them are the attempts to legalise cannabis, also known as marijuana, while keeping the rest on the banned list. This has three major advantages, the first is that it decriminalises the largest chunk of drug users and brings the thriving business above board. There is a clear demand for the product, and 5% of the world – mostly ordinary people will no longer worry about doing something illegal, or paying bribes to get clear of the charges. The second more important thing is that the moment it is legal, it can be regulated, and it can be taxed. The money earned, can go to paying for the burgeoning healthcare requirements that India has. And, lastly it cuts off a major revenue source for the those who trade in illicit drugs. They will be forced to cut back operations, reduce armed men who protect the cargo, and reduce the amount of illicit money transfers. Terrorism funded by the drug trade would decrease. There are a variety of emotional reasons to keep marijuana banned, but there isn’t a rational reason not to legalise it . It is about time the Government of India took a long and hard look at the narcotics policy, and legalise marijuana, while cracking down hard on all other drugs.
Harini Calamur works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences.
First Published: May 2, 2018 2:43 PM IST