The State has failed to curb the drug menace in the country for decades despite stringent laws and clear delineation of the role of each agency in the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substance and Substance Abuse Act, and regulations. The failure is largely attributed to the lack of coordination among the implementing agencies. The lack of coordination is mostly triggered by the territorial protection of institutions and the personal ego of those heading these agencies. The situation has further worsened with the liberalisation of both alcohol and tobacco—the gateway drugs across the country.

With His Majesty’s repeated reminders on numerous occasions and more so during the 115th National Day Address, the government is finally all out to combat drug abuse situation through a National Coordination Taskforce.  Merely guarding the international borders to control drugs will not achieve its goal if these gateway continue to function was they always have.

Tobacco is available in every grocery shop across the country, undoing every effort to control tobacco use in the country since the early 1980s. Tobacco has become one of the most affordable and available “essential” goods across the country. Similarly, doing away with bar licences to regulate alcohol. Deputing a few inspectors in urban towns like Thimphu will not address the risk of vulnerability and exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Numerous studies have proved that alcohol and tobacco are the most common triggers or factors that lead to the use of other drugs. For example, findings from the Monitoring the Future Project of the United Kingdom suggest that about 54 percent of 12th graders reported they used alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.

This report further states that “students reporting alcohol use in the 6th grade had greater rates of lifetime illicit substance use and had significantly more frequent occurrences of illicit substance abuse than students who reported first using alcohol in the 9th grade or beyond.”

The disregard among those selling these gateway drugs to children, nightclubs and entertainment centres allowing children to freely enter these centres and no enforcement on age verification, including entertainment centres in Thimphu City, are further aggravating the vulnerabilities among our youth.  

Instead of imposing fines, the government must be bold enough to lock and seal these shops and entertainment centres for months to years for repeated offences. For instance, a nightclub is locked for two to three months for violation of age verification. The current fines are peanuts compared to what they earn by selling or allowing them in these entertainment centres unless the fines are in millions which case, they won’t be able to pay. Therefore, this fight against the drug menace must include State funding for rehabilitation, treatment, and social reintegration programmes across the country.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.