Pakistan’s Growing Challenge: Drug Use & Abuse…

drug

GVS Analysis |

Listening to policemen in Islamabad and Lahore reveals that more and more of Pakistani youth are experimenting with new and dangerous drugs. College-going boys and girls, from upper middle-class homes, with disposable incomes, define the consumers in a food and profit chain in which suppliers and members of law enforcement agencies are all linked. Drugs are varied: cocaine, heroin, speed, marijuana to alcohol.

This new challenge adds to the pre-existing problem of abuse of traditional drugs like “Charas” in large parts of Pakistan. To this day, federal and provincial governments have not been able to come up with a policy to tackle these issues. The solution lies neither in denial of a situation that exists for centuries nor in reacting with undue alarm. The way forward lies in understanding and coming up with a well thought out legal response.

Commonly known as garda or hash (among the more affluent), the use of charas dates back thousands of years in Pakistan and the surrounding regions. Yet the topic of its use and history is strictly taboo in polite society and rarely mentioned in the media. Pakistani society has a peculiar way of turning a blind eye to vices that have become intrinsic to its culture. Charas consumption may not be openly acknowledged but the whole enterprise of cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of the cannabis product has grown into a highly profitable and sophisticated industry over the decades.

In order to effectively tackle the issue of widespread consumption of charas, it is important to recognize the history and traditional role of the drug in certain regions of Pakistan where charas is produced and sold.

In Pakistan, the laws governing control of narcotics are antiquated. They make no distinction between the possession of a narcotic substance and its sale and distribution

While other drugs such as MDMA and amphetamines are relatively new, charas smoking dates back thousands of years in the tribal northwestern regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and hilly regions of India.

While the consumption of alcohol and opioids is considered amoral, charas is seen as a harmless indulgence in these regions where the marijuana plant is a cash crop.

Charas: A handmade form of hashish, extracted from the cannabis (marijuana) flower. The traditional method of smoking marijuana in the South Eastern region of Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Afghanistan.

This casual attitude towards the drug has seeped into urban centers where young people have also taken up the habit. Because a large segment of the population from the tribal regions, who usually abide by a very strict religious code, show acceptance of charas it gives license to the middle-class youth to indulge in it without fear of social criticism. You will often hear young people citing extensive studies carried out in the west which reveal that marijuana consumption poses little risk to health when compared to that of alcohol and opioid consumption. While longtime users may develop a dependency on marijuana after regular consumption, studies show that it cannot be categorized as a physically addictive substance like opioids.

The state has so far failed to address this paradox between a tradition that dates back thousands of years and the more recently erected anti-narcotics laws.

Regular drug busts from the Anti-Narcotics Force do very little to inhibit the use of the drug. It has now become a socially acceptable indulgence amongst the youth, unlike alcohol or opioids which are still largely shunned.

In Pakistan, the laws governing control of narcotics are antiquated. They make no distinction between the possession of a narcotic substance and its sale and distribution.  The Control of Narcotic Substances Act 1997 (CNSA) does not take into account the distinction between opioids and cannabis products, like charas, however, the courts have established their own system of distinction but the issue of possession versus distribution has yet to be addressed.

Given the reality of the widespread usage and acceptance of charas, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the schism between law and tradition continues to widen.

In a recent Supreme Court case, a three-judge bench acquitted a rickshaw driver for the possession of 3 kilograms of charas. Justice Dost Muhammad observed that the narcotics laws had serious loopholes

This schism undermines rule of law, especially in poor areas where the locals have developed an informal code with the law enforcement. This relationship is one-sided because the police take advantage of their position as enforcers of a law which conflicts with local custom to extort bribes out of users and distributors alike.

Poverty and lack of enforcement of the law creates an environment where a parallel system of bribery and extortion has taken seed, bypassing the rule of law. It is widely known among habitual charas smokers that if one is caught by the police, they can easily bribe their way out of the situation for a few hundred rupees.

The judiciary is also cognizant of this reality. In a recent Supreme Court case, a three-judge bench acquitted a rickshaw driver for the possession of 3 kilograms of charas. Justice Dost Muhammad observed that the narcotics laws had serious loopholes (no distinction between possession and sale) which allowed the police to unfairly target the poor. He also acknowledged the widespread availability of the drug.

Because the state has failed to construct a viable system of regulation and control of charas and growing social acceptance, the number of drug peddlers in urban centers have increased exponentially over the past few years.

The unregulated trade of charas has given birth to a vast undocumented and untaxed industry. Law enforcement officials who turn a blind eye (for a price), farmers who cultivate the raw product, processors who make it into charas, transporters who smuggle it into cities, and drug dealers who distribute it are all stakeholders in this invisible industry.

According to United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime report 2013, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s population uses cannabis products.

Those who profit from the charas industry take advantage of the dysfunction that plagues Pakistan’s narcotic laws and enforcement agencies. The lack of attention given to this issue and the taboo surrounding it does little to discourage consumption, rather it helps keep this highly lucrative industry in the shadows.

According to United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime report 2013, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s population uses cannabis products. It is highly likely that this figure underestimates consumption because there is no real structure for tracking drug usage.

The greatest harm to the nation resulting from this failure to address the issue of narcotics is not the physical damage caused to a user’s body, but rather the propagation and acceptance of a culture that is dismissive of the law.

In order to bring alienated segments of society back into the fold of law and to address the issue of growing narcotics consumption, the traditions and culture of the region and the realities of poverty must be taken into view by lawmakers.

 

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