The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has suggested decriminalising possession of small quantities of drugs for personal consumption, PTI reported on Sunday.

The ministry made the suggestion last week in its review of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act submitted to the Department of Revenue, the nodal body for administrative authority on the law.

An unidentified official said that the ministry suggested that those held with small quantities of drugs be given compulsory treatment at government centres instead of a jail term. The ministry suggested treating people who use drugs or are dependent on them as victims, reported The Indian Express.

Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, “small quantity” refer to amounts of drugs less than that specified by the Union government. For example, the limit for cannabis is 100 grams, and 2 grams in case of cocaine.

The suggestions came after the revenue department asked other departments, several ministries, the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Central Bureau of Investigation to propose changes to the NDPS Act.

Possession of drugs is a criminal offence under the NDPS Act. It only gives addict or those dependent or drugs immunity from prosecution and imprisonment if they volunteer for treatment and rehabilitation.

However, there are no reliefs or exemptions for first timer or recreational users.

Further, Section 27 of the NDPS Act provides for jail term of up to a year or a fine of up to Rs 20,000, or both, for consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. Under this section too, there is no distinction between addicts, first time or recreational users.

This is one of the provisions for which the ministry has suggested replacing the prison term and fine with compulsory treatment for at least 30 days.

Section 27 of the Act was recently used in the arrest of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan and seven others in a Narcotics Control Bureau raid on a cruise party off the coast of Mumbai on October 2.

The agency said it had seized 13 grams of cocaine, 5 grams of mephedrone, 21 grams of charas, 22 pills of MDMA (ecstasy) and Rs 1.3 lakh from the ship.

Aryan Khan is in custody after a special court in Mumbai denied him bail on Wednesday. He has approached the Bombay High Court for bail. Khan’s lawyers have repeatedly argued in courts that no drugs were found in his possession.

However, on Wednesday, judge VV Patil of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances court had rejected this argument. He said that Khan knew that co-accused Arbaaz Merchant was carrying narcotic substances in his shoes at the party. Patil said that this amounted to “conscious possession”.

The Act prohibits trade, production, use and possession of drugs and psychotropic substances, irrespective of the purpose, except for medical and scientific reasons.

However, the majority of cases filed under the Act are for possession for personal consumption.

A study released last year by think tank group Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy showed that 97.7% of the cases lodged in Maharashtra under the NDPS Act in 2017 and, 97.3% of them in 2018 were related to possession for personal consumption, The Indian Express reported.