For the first time in Himachal Pradesh, a chief minister has accepted on a public stage that “drug menace” is a problem in the state and the government is seriously concerned about it.

Acceptance, they say, is the first step to solve any problem. But it is easier said than done.

The issue of drugs in Himachal seems to have got out of hand in earlier years so much so that the government will have to work out a multi-pronged strategy to deal with it sternly with an integrated approach between different agencies.

Unlike Punjab, which is used as a pathway for trafficking, making drugs easily available to the youth, Himachal has not only been witness to illegal cultivation of cannabis and opium on large chunks of forest and private land across the districts, the state is a ripe ground for drug trafficking to other parts of the country and abroad, and of late, substance abuse with synthetic drugs being trafficked into Himachal from other states.

Sources said poppy is roughly grown on over 5000 bighas of land, including private land, in the upper heights of Kullu and Mandi districts. There is no count of cannabis as it is widely seen growing on forest area, government and private land by people in Kullu, Mandi, Chamba and some other areas.

Some parts of Kullu valley, including Malana village on a hill, are notorious for producing best quality drugs processed from cannabis, which are popular across Europe and have a great sale value.

People in some interior parts of Kullu valley are engrossed in making easy money with this illegal business so much so that in remote Malana village, the people shunned development, especially construction of roads, in their area for many years for it would have connected them with other parts of the state and exposed them.

The border areas of Himachal, particularly Kangra, Una and Solan, are reportedly in the grip of ‘substance abuse’ as well, with supplies mainly coming from Punjab.

The government has been raising the issue of drug abuse for general awareness and awakening among children. The police roped in some Himachal-based celebrities in the campaign against drugs recently, but that’s not enough.

“There has to be strict enforcement, intensive monitoring and an alternative development plan for those who are into illicit cultivation and trafficking of poppy and cannabis for livelihood. To check abuse, the law enforcement agencies of the state and centre should nab the drug supply link-ups, rather than just nabbing individuals,” said OP Sharma, former Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Officer from Himachal Pradesh.

Sharma had worked on an alternative development plan for people of Malana to ensure their shift from cannabis to cash crops like apples and peas a few years ago, but that failed for lack of willingness by government departments to support and facilitate the locals in marketing.

On the whole, the ‘double speak’ and piecemeal approach of the government on drugs has aggravated the problem.

Politicians in Kullu have been repeatedly demanding that cultivation of cannabis be regularised keeping an eye on vote banks. All this despite the fact that a similar demand sprung up earlier twice, but was turned down by the Centre.

Barring a few police officials, the cops too have not shown the courage and commitment to enforce the law strictly for reasons unknown. There is no mechanism for intelligence inputs on drug trading and there is no committed man power to check the drug menace.

There are intermittent campaigns by the government to remove cannabis from large chunks of land near the roads, buildings and accessible hills, but the interiors, where the ‘nexus’ with foreigners exists for processing of drugs like heroin, ganja, malana cream, are not touched at all.

Synthetic drugs are allegedly sold through chains outside educational institutions in Shimla and other cities, right under the nose of the state police, and the students can be seen consuming them in dark corners that any resident would know.

But there is no concrete action from any angle by police or individual institutions to dissuade the youngsters from drug abuse. The trend continues and this is now assuming alarming proportions among students.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said, “The demand for legalising cannabis had cropped up earlier as well and it has come from certain leaders in Kullu district. It may be easier to say this. However, we need to study the impact and examine the legal implications as well.”

Thakur said there are strict provisions to tighten the noose on drug abuse and the need is being felt for more stringent laws. “But we will have to have a soft approach towards the children, who have taken to drugs,” he said.

Thakur, however, categorically said that children could be the messengers of change if they are awakened against the ills of drugs. He said the state is already working on a joint strategy to check the drug menace with neighbouring states.