By / June 2, 2023

Singapore Introduces Archaic Caning Punishment for Cannabis Possession

Since June 1st, possessing certain drugs in Singapore, including cannabis, can lead to a sentence of 30 years in prison and caning, with up to 15 strokes of the cane. These stricter penalties were introduced and passed in parliament in March.

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Harsher Penalties in Singapore

The new penalties in Singapore will be allocated based on the quantity of morphine, diamorphine, opium, cocaine, cannabis, hashish, or methamphetamine possessed.

  • Under the first tier, offenders face a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both penalties combined.
  • At the middle tier, offenders face 10 to 20 years in prison and five to ten strokes of the cane.
  • For possession of prohibited substances at the highest tier, the penalty is 20 to 30 years in prison and 10 to 15 strokes of the cane.

Previously, the penalty for possessing any controlled substance in Singapore, regardless of quantity, was a maximum of 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $20,000, or both penalties combined. Now, the penalties have been tightened, and individuals caught with illegal substances will also receive caning as punishment.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in Singapore will continue to conduct investigations into individuals caught with drugs to determine whether the drugs were intended for trafficking or personal consumption.

Death Penalty in Singapore

According to current regulations in Singapore, offenders Singapore can be sentenced to death for illegal trading, importing, or exporting specified quantities of these eight drugs.

The intensified penalties for drug possession are part of a package of changes that will come into effect from June 1st. The changes include a provision that allows the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) to summon any former drug addict for a urine test at any point in their life to ensure they are no longer addicted.

Singapore Concerned Global Drug Situation Worsening

The tightening of penalties comes in the context of concerns that the global drug situation is worsening.

During her speech at the Asia-Pacific Forum Against Drugs at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Center in Singapore on May 26th, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo noted that cannabis use by individuals above the age of 12 increased by 26 percent in the state of Colorado, USA, after the substance was legalized in 2012.

She added that from 2019 to 2021, hospitals in the state recorded an increase in the number of newborns affected by maternal cannabis use and a doubling of hospitalizations for children below the age of six related to cannabis.

Concerns for Young People

In parliament in March, Minister of Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim observed that young people abuse drugs more frequently than adults.

Citing the 2022 World Drug Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), he said that drug abuse among young people reached record levels in many countries, with Singapore presumably counting among those impacted.

“The number of drug-related deaths worldwide increased by 17.5 percent between 2009 and 2019, reaching approximately half a million deaths in 2019,” he added.

Graduated Sentencing System Will Not Apply to Already-Regulated Substances

A graduated sentencing system for possession in Singapore was introduced to address the greater harm that can be caused by individuals willing to risk possessing large quantities of drugs to meet local demand.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated that the new law would not apply to psychoactive substances with legal uses or substances that Singapore already controls, such as alcohol, tobacco, and food additives.

Does Punishment for Drug Possession in Singapore Make Sense?

The issue of punishing individuals for the possession of small amounts of cannabis and other drugs is a topic of intense debate, both in Singapore and worldwide. Some countries, such as Portugal, have opted for the decriminalization of possessing small quantities of drugs, arguing that this approach focuses on treatment rather than punishment for individuals struggling with addiction. Other countries, including many states in the USA, are legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes, and an increasing number of countries are legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.

On the other hand, many countries, including Singapore, have chosen to maintain strict penalties for drug possession, believing that it deters people from trying and using these substances. They argue that even small amounts of drugs can lead to addiction and cause harm to the health of users and society as a whole.

The decriminalization of possessing small amounts of cannabis and other drugs is a highly debated topic worldwide. Here are a few arguments in favor of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use both in Singapore and globally:

  1. Focus on health rather than punishment: Decriminalization allows for a focus on treating individuals struggling with addiction rather than punishing them for drug possession. This approach can contribute to reducing addiction-related problems, such as drug-related diseases or social issues.
  2. Reduction in crime: Decriminalization can help reduce drug-related crime by decreasing the demand on the black market. Additionally, it eliminates the issue of criminalizing individuals who use drugs but are not engaged in criminal activities.
  3. Cost savings for public resources: Prosecuting and punishing individuals for possessing small amounts of drugs is costly, especially when sentences are as harsh as those introduced by Singapore. Decriminalization could save significant resources that could be allocated to other purposes, such as education, healthcare, or prevention programs.
  4. Increased control over quality and safety: Decriminalization, especially in conjunction with regulation, allows for better control over the quality of substances and reduces the risks associated with using drugs of unknown quality and composition.
  5. Respect for human rights: Some argue that adults should have the right to decide what they do with their bodies as long as they do not harm others.

However, it is important to note that drug decriminalization also has its drawbacks and is not a panacea for all drug-related problems. It requires appropriate support infrastructure, education, and prevention efforts to be effective, which may be a large hurdle to overcome in strongly anti-drug countries like Singapore.

(Featured illustration by Jean-Baptiste Debret (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons)

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