While Thailand and now Malaysia are taking strides toward legalising the use of medical marijuana, Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) of Singapore is cracking down even harder on drug use. As if its stance was not clear before, the CNB has been conducting more random security checks and has now declared that Singaporeans who are found to have used drugs while overseas will be treated as if they took drugs in Singapore.
The CNB released an advisory on Friday, October 26, saying that it is not releasing its grip on drugs. This was in light “of ongoing discussions in some countries” on the safety and legality of cannabis for medical and recreational use.
Just this month, Canada declared that it was legalising recreational marijuana, the second country in the world to do so, after Uruguay in 2013.
Closer to home, Thailand has begun moving towards allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes, with a target start date of May 2019. However, recreational use of marijuana will remain illegal.
Malaysia shocked everyone by announcing its intentions to begin talks on legalising cannabis for medical use. Malaysian Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jayakumar said last month that the medicinal value of marijuana was discussed “very briefly” in the Malaysian Cabinet. Informal talks on amending the laws related to cannabis use have begun.
In the advisory, the CNB reiterated that despite what other countries are doing, it believes that there is “scant evidence of the safety and efficacy of long-term cannabis use”.
In a literature review, Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health backed up the statements of the CNB, saying that cannabis is indeed addictive, harmful and can cause brain damage.
“These findings corroborate our position that cannabis should remain an illicit drug,” the CNB said.
The CNB has been diligently conducting enforcement checks on Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) who return from trips overseas.
Authorities will take action against returning citizens or PRs who are found to have consumed drugs overseas. The CNB’s intention is to do away with the misconception that Singaporeans who are out of the country can do what they want when it comes to drugs. Upon their return into Singapore, if they are found to have abused drugs while they were away, they will face serious action, the same as if they were taking drugs in the city-state.
In Singapore, the law states that possession or consumption of cannabis can be met with up to 10 years in jail and a serious fine of up to $20,000.
For importation or exportation of marijuana in certain quantities, Singapore has the death penalty in place. Just this month, six men were hanged for drug-related offences, one of them a Malaysian man in possession of diamorphine whose family had submitted a petition for clemency that the office of President Halimah Yacob did not consider.
The CNB said that the way Singapore deals with drugs has allowed it to stay relatively drug-free, with the number of drug abusers arrested making up a less than 0.1 percent of the total population.
This September, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam reinforced that Singapore must take a “firm and clear-headed” approach on drugs and not have the problem “spiral out of control”, citing the United States and its growing problems with cannabis as an example.
Minister Shanmugam said that until Singaporean scientists can scientifically determine the medical properties of marijuana and give it medically without the psychoactive side effects, it cannot and will not legally allowed to help with medical use.
The CNB also reported that the number of drug users arrested at checkpoints has gone up in the past few years.
Most of those who were caught are Singaporean and permanent resident students or young professionals coming from Europe, Thailand or Bali. They tested positive for drugs during random security checks conducted by the CNB upon their return to Singapore and were dealt with accordingly.
“Some Singaporeans think they can evade detection and prosecution by going overseas to consume drugs. They are mistaken,” said the CNB.