Why is Marijuana banned but not alcohol? Court room exchange on State responsibility for Alcohol-induced crimes

Why is Marijuana banned but not alcohol? Court room exchange on State responsibility for Alcohol-induced crimes

Meera Emmanuel

The Madras High Court’s call for the Bar’s views on whether the state can be held liable for alcohol-related crimes prompted an interesting discussion in Justice N Anand Venkatesh’s courtroom on Thursday afternoon.

In an order passed last month, the Court had decided to examine whether the Tamil Nadu government can be made responsible for crimes committed under the influence of alcohol, given the monopoly exercised by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Limited (TASMAC) over the sale of alcohol in the state.

Among the various lawyers who expressed their views on the topic were Senior Advocate NL Rajah and Advocates Sanjay Pinto and Vijay Raghavan. The lawyers appeared to be in agreement that the state should ideally be fixed with some form of responsibility for crimes being committed under the influence of alcohol.

Raghavan pointed out that the dilemma raised by the Court was akin to the situation during the 1930s prohibition era in the US. This was followed by the eventual introduction of Dram Shop Laws, which fix liability on the suppliers, if alcohol is served to minors or intoxicated persons who later cause death or injury.

He suggested that a similar law should be introduced in Tamil Nadu as well. In the meanwhile, the government may be directed to issue an order fixing a minimum amount of compensation to be paid to victims in cases of alcohol-induced crimes. During the course of submissions, it was also pointed out that liquor liability insurance can be opted for by alcohol vendors to moderate their losses in such cases.

NL Rajah emphasised that there is a need to empower the victims to claim compensation in such cases. He opined that the state should be made to implement rehabilitation and compensatory schemes proportionate to the profits being made through its sale of alcohol.

During the course of Rajah’s submissions, Justice Venkatesh was also prompted to orally observe that the injurious social costs of alcohol are very high. Concurring with the judge, Rajah observed that social costs of alcohol may outweigh marijuana, even though only the latter is banned.

Why is marijuana banned and not alcohol?” Rajah remarked.

Raghavan also chimed in to point out that marijuana is in fact used as a medicinal painkiller.

Sanjay Pinto highlighted that responsibility should be fixed on states when it comes to the commission of crimes under the influence of alcohol, particularly given that the definition of “Abetment” under Section 107 of the IPC includes illegal omission. Inter alia, he pointed out that a particular conflict of interest was inherent in the sale of alcohol in Tamil Nadu, given that the Managing Director of TASMAC also happens to be the Commissioner of Prohibition.

Pinto argued that the irresponsible supply of alcohol is akin to handing a weapon to an insane person or handing car keys to a minor child. To buttress his submissions, Pinto referred to the Directive Principles of State Policy under Articles 39 (A), 39 (F) and 47 of the Constitution.

He also argued that the right to carry on one’s profession under Article 19 (1)(g) should also be applied after factoring in the principle of Res Extra Commercium, which entails giving greater importance to public health over commercial interests.

Ultimately, Rajah argued, it boils down to the political will of the state. He pointed out that unless there is political will to implement welfare measures, Court orders are unlikely to be implemented. Rather, the matter will only face further Court challenges or the introduction of new laws to bypass the Court’s orders.

Public Prosecutor A Natarajan was also present to make submissions on behalf of the state. In the course of submissions, the Court was informed that a Special Leave Petition had been filed in the Supreme Court in the matter.

In response, Justice Venkatesh assured that he does not intend to pass any orders that would overstep his jurisdiction. He noted that a lot of what he has said on the issue has been thrown out of proportion. He emphasised that the present matter is not a Public Interest Litigation, but rather that his only intention was to discern whether there was any way in which the state can compensate the victims of alcohol-induced crimes. He remarked that he had taken up the issue as an expression of his anguish.

“…but by an expression of anguish, [the Court] cannot go beyond the four corners of the law”, he observed.

Justice Venkatesh proceeded to suggest in open Court that the state, being a welfare state, should by itself come out with a compensatory scheme.

If the government itself comes up with something like this [compensatory measures], it would be goodIt would reflect well on the state“, he said.

PP Natarajan told the Court that he would take the suggestion to the state. The Court also directed the state to file a counter in this regard as well.

The matter will be taken up next on April 25.

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