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Why Prohibition of Alcohol and Cannabis Could Not Succeed?

The easy method of preparation of the final products of alcohol and cannabis makes it next to impossible to prohibit or ban them fully.

ByRK Nimai

Updated 14 Oct 2022, 8:25 am

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Many countries had one or the other time attempted to ban or prohibit use of alcohol and cannabis, but just could not succeed. So it is in Manipur as well.

The most famous attempt to impose prohibition of liquor was in the United States of America in the late 1920s and early 1930s that failed miserably, but it led to criminal gangs controlling the production, transport and sale leading to violent incidents.

In the case of cannabis, in 1961 when the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was debated, there were very strong arguments to ban all cannabis products but on the objections raised by India, bhang which is leaves and seeds were not included, while charas (resin) and ganja (flower buds) were.

The Convention was supplemented by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. By 2022, 186 countries have ratified the Convention.

The objection then to cannabis products was the belief that use of soft drugs lead to hard drugs. This belief was found unsubstantiated later and there are bodies of studies which indicate on the contrary and by 2020 it was descheduled from Schedule IV to Schedule I drug; meaning that signatories can allow medical use but is still considered as addictive with serious risk of abuse.

There are though countries which have allowed use of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Even in the USA, where cannabis is banned by Federal laws, the President has pardoned those who were incarcerated for possessing it.

Other narcotic and psychotropic substances are regulated with some success be it heroin, LSD, amphetamine and its derivatives, cocaine, etc though the volume of illicit trade continues to be very high with cartels or syndicates controlling the illicit production, transport and sale.

Liquor was not considered in the convention as it has been part of the culture of various communities and the West considered it to be an essential part of their culture. This is despite the fact that it is addictive and leads to domestic violence.

Narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in Manipur

As the number of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are large, this article focuses on a few which are locally available, though few others were cited as examples.

Additives can be divided into two groups, one which needs a laboratory to produce while the other are those which can be produced by individuals without much investment either in terms of technology and skilled manpower.

All are aware that heroin is manufactured from opium which is the resin of poppy plants. Earlier opium was taken orally as narcotic or recreational drugs either by swallowing a small piece or smoked. Production of heroin requires a laboratory with low technology input.

There are a few steps which take time and most of the illicit factory shift venues after one or two steps.

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The first step is conversion to brown heroin base (heroin No. 1), then to white heroin base (heroin No. 2) and then to pure heroin hydrochloride (heroin No. 4) and finally adding inert materials to make brown sugar (heroin No. 3), the last two being pushed.

Due to the various steps involved, enforcing agencies find it easier to target production. Similarly cocaine, which is available but not popular in Manipur is manufactured from coca leaves and involves three steps- the first step is conversion of the leaves into paste which is generally done near the growing area; the second step is conversion of coca paste into cocaine base and the final step is to convert this into cocaine hydrochloride.  

Amphetamine and methamphetamine which are popular in Manipur are synthetic compounds produced in labs.

Amphetamine is synthesised by heating a mixture of phenylacetone and formamide in the presence of formic acid forms N-formylamphetamine which is hydrolysed with hydrochloric acid to produce amphetamine hydrochloride.

Methamphetamine on the other hand is easily manufactured in makeshift labs from pseudoephedrine, an over the counter drug.

Alternatively, in Mexico, an alternative production process was developed called P2P short form of phenyl-2-propanone, a pseudoephedrine precursor to make methamphetamine without using pseudoephedrine. Enforcement agencies everywhere keep tabs on the raw materials.

What is the reason for failure to control drugs in Manipur

Most of this drug in Manipur comes from Myanmar. Law enforcement agencies here need to keep a watch on the sale and transport of the two precursor chemicals that are pseudoephedrine and phenyl-2-propanone.

Other drugs like LSD, peyote, mescaline etc are reported to be available from time to time but these are all imported with limited usage. On the other hand two important drugs are alcohol and cannabis and efforts to control them here and elsewhere have failed. What is the reason for this?

Alcohol or to be more specific ethanol can be produced from sugar and carbohydrates and any item which contains these can be the raw material. The agent for conversion is yeast in the process of fermentation.

Yeast is a group of microorganisms with its spores floating in the air. Materials which contain sugar or carbohydrates are broken down by yeast and converted into ethanol and some by-products.

Normally yeast is active till the ethanol content rises up to about 15-18% after which it becomes inactive. The product is generally called wine, though commercially those which start with grapes are called wine. For others, a prefix indicating the starting materials as in plum wine, fruit wine, etc. Beverage made from fermented juice of apples is called cider.

Now strains of yeast have been bred which become inactive when the ethanol content reaches 5 to 21 per cent. On the other hand, the fermented product can be distilled to increase the ethanol content beyond 50 per cent. These are liquors. Alcoholic beverages which are bottled with added sugar and flavours derived from fruits, herbs and nuts are called liqueurs.

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Exemption of traditional villages from the prohibition

Despite prohibition, locally produced liquors are freely available in the market as some traditional villages were exempted from the prohibition. The failure of the enforcement agencies to stop transport of liquors from these villages ensures that the product is available all across the state.

There is large-scale corruption and even if it is clamped down earnestly, people can easily produce their own, though the quality can be inferior.

This writer makes rice wine by putting a little cooked rice in some water in a plastic bottle, keeping it in the sun for a few days and shaking the bottle every day. After some time, the smell of alcohol oozes when the bottle is opened. The upper liquid portion is decanted and sprayed over mealy aphids and the alcohol contained therein dissolves the sticky layer covering the aphid, exposing it to the air to make it more amenable to mild insecticides.

Easy to grow, easy to make

The point here is that it is too easy to make alcoholic drinks. The term moonlighting came into being as during prohibition, people went to the forest and distilled the liquor in moonlight. In fact, in Manipur there are many who brew their own wines, mainly from local fruits such as plums, bananas, oranges, bear, etc. Alcoholics can easily produce their own needs from rice or any other starchy materials, which can be distilled at home to produce liquor, if the need arises.

In the case of cannabis, it is very easy to grow. This writer had seen hill slopes covered with cannabis plants, which one can’t differentiate from a distance, unlike poppy which can easily be identified from the yellowish green colour. It is only when the flowers come out and the resin starts forming that the air is pervaded with the typical sweetish smell of marijuana. It is very easy to prepare ganja from the flower buds, cut the flowering stem, air-dry for a few days and bunch the small branches and roll it, or by using mechanical devices can even be made into bricks.

Growing in the hills and rural areas is easy, processing also does not require technology and can be done in any home.

In other words, for both alcohol and cannabis, the technological requirement and investment for the final product is almost zero and thus these are easy to prepare or manufacture. For other narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, the preparation of the final usable product requires certain processing which cannot be done at any place and requires at least a proper makeshift lab and a person with a certain set of skills.

One advantage of both liquor and cannabis is that it is not strongly addictive and to become dependent on these mood changers, requires quite some time unlike heroin which one can become dependent on within a week’s time.

As the addiction is less and it is next to impossible to stop people from using either alcohol or cannabis, the better option is to regulate them in the market to ensure better quality products.

Meanwhile, the government can also garner revenue which can be used for developmental purposes. The easy method of preparation of the final products of alcohol and cannabis makes it next to impossible to prohibit or ban them fully.

(The views expressed are personal)

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narcoticsdrugsganjarohibition of AlcoholCannabis

RK Nimai

RK Nimai

The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur

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