When the Royal Bhutan Police embarked on its fight against drugs in December 2013, they claimed the nationwide drug crackdown would make the society drug-free.

Almost nine years later, the fight is still on. Offences related to controlled substances are a major issue in the country today.  The number of drug peddlers has not reduced. Police publish their photos on social media almost every other day.

During the peak of the pandemic, controlled substances and tobacco products were some of the most trafficked items from across the border. In 2020 alone, even when movements were restricted, there were 455 cases of drugs, which included substance abuse by minors.

After the nationwide drug crackdown began, more than 7,000 people have gone behind the bars. Records state 712 people were arrested in 2014 for offences related to drugs, followed by 515 in 2014. In 2017, 555 people were arrested for the offence and in 2018, 620 people were arrested.

What is clear from the figures is that the number of people involved in drugs did not decrease after the crackdown. And with drugs penetrating the borders as it did before the crackdown, the fight did not meet its intended purpose.

This makes us question the mode of the operation. Many are asking if our police are catching the small fish and leaving the drug lords or the main people who are supplying the controlled substances. But there is a good news. Thimphu police claimed one of the main dealers was arrested from Jungshina recently. We are yet to know the details.

However, with the illegal drug trade continuing, if not flourishing, isn’t it time to find some effective drug control mechanism? Isn’t it time to focus on treatment, awareness and sensitisation?

We need a rationale drug control programme that includes everyone, not just law enforcers and penalties. Educating society on the adverse impacts of pharmaceutical drugs and substance abuse on youth is necessary.

Society is failing miserably when we dump our youth, who experimented marijuana and abused it, together with hard core criminals.

We also have to streamline the application of laws on drugs.

While our law enforcers and nodal agency for matters related to narcotics drugs, psychotropic substances and substance abuse, close their eye on a firm that produces and sells hemp extracts in Thimphu, they raid homes and farms to curb the distribution of marijuana. Like farmers of Baelangdra in Wangduephodrang and Shingkhar Lauri in Samdrupjongkhar, 100s of people go behind bars for possession and trafficking of cannabis.   

We need a society free of drugs, but we also need rationale laws and their application.