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Opium Legalization Initiative Hits India

Bill Weinberg

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A candidate for the assembly in India’s northwest state of Punjab is calling for the legalization of opium to address the much-hyped drug problem in the state.  

Calcutta’s the Telegraph reported on Sunday that candidate Tarsem Jodhan unveiled the proposal at a campaign rally in his native village of Dakha, saying: “Opium is not a killer like heroin and other synthetic drugs.”

The unabashedly left-wing candidate wears a traditional Sikh turban but calls himself “Comrade Tarsem.” He is a former legislator with the Communist Party of India and is now running on the ticket of the Democratic Swaraj Party, a progressive party with a Sikh base. The state is currently run by a coalition of two right-wing parties: the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which also controls India’s federal government and the Sikh-nationalist Shiromani Akali Dal. Both take a hard-line, anti-drug stance. 

Unfortunately, the two-party coalition that is the main opposition in Punjab is only baiting the BJP-SAD administration as soft on drugs. Leaders of both the center-left Punjab Congress and Aam Aadmi Party ambitiously (and ominously) promise to make Punjab “drug-free” within a month of coming to power if they win the elections.

They’ve also pledged to quickly imprison Bikramjit Singh Majithia, the SAD Punjab revenue minister accused of involvement in narco-corruption. Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal told the Hindu newspaper: “When an AAP government is formed, we will punish Bikram Singh Majithia and his associates who have pushed Punjab into the problem.” 

The same state government accused of drug corruption is itself hyping the opium menace.

A Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey in 2015 found that an estimated 2.3 million individuals of the 10 districts the study covered were dependent on drugs.

The United Nations authorizes India to cultivate opium for legal morphine production. Under the supervision of the Central Bureau of Narcotics, legal opium is grown in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Tarsem is demanding that New Delhi allow production in Punjab as well, to give the state’s opium growers a licit livelihood and undercut the illegal market.

The state elections are to be held in February, with the results to be announced in March.

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