The Straits Times says

Fighting an old menace in new ways

It was inevitable that online marketplaces lurking in the Dark Web - a hard-to-access part of the Internet which is often used for illegal activity - should target drug abusers. The anonymity offered by these black markets answers to the sleazy need for secrecy felt by abusers forever wary of the enforcement activities of anti-drug agencies active on the ground. The Web offers the advantages of drugs being shipped globally and of payments being made surreptitiously. Singapore felt the effects of these developments when the number of people arrested for buying drugs and drug-related paraphernalia online increased from 30 in 2015 to an astonishing 201 last year. It is worrying that most of the offenders were between the ages of 20 and 39. That is the age when they should be actively building their careers, and in the process, contributing to the economic and social future of Singapore, not its silent attrition through drug misuse.

On the broader anti-drug scene, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) arrested 3,245 drug abusers last year. While the number of repeat offenders arrested decreased by 7 per cent over the previous year, the number of new drug abusers arrested increased by 3 per cent. Alarmingly, a survey carried out by the National Council Against Drug Abuse last year found that young people below the age of 30 were more open-minded towards drugs compared with the results of a 2013 survey.

Despairing over the persistence of such abuse, despite the decades spent fighting the scourge, some wonder whether the country should move away from a strict penal model that criminalises drug use to a "medical model" that focuses on the health of drug users. Movements in several countries have argued in favour of reforms to create regulated markets, especially for cannabis. However, experts have found that cannabis is harmful and addictive, especially to the young - who tend to be the ones failing to seek help when they have gone in over their heads. Youthful offenders are the ones who will need more community support to escape the clutches of drugs.

The CNB recognises that the threat of drugs remains high because of the ease with which people can order items on the Internet and have them delivered by post or courier. Hence considerable efforts are being taken to keep watch on what is entering the city-state. Even so, young offenders who are driven by the desire to experiment might still think they can evade detection. Cross-border criminals will continue seeking ways to push their illicit wares and unscrupulous entrepreneurs are reportedly waiting to pounce on any easing of rules elsewhere so they can market "cannabis-infused sugary drinks, marijuana-smoked salmon, and hash cookies". Faced with such dark prospects, Singapore should hold fast to the tough approach it takes to the war against narcotics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2017, with the headline 'Fighting an old menace in new ways'. Print Edition | Subscribe