Sending drug abusers who confess to consumption offences, and who do not face other criminal charges, to rehabilitation - regardless of how many times they are arrested - might appear to be going soft on drug consumption. After all, taking drugs is consumption, the tough punishment for which has been a cornerstone of Singapore's war on drugs. Tough measures have also ranged from preventing their use, to say nothing of deterring their trafficking. Hence, previously, hardcore abusers - those caught for the third time or more - would be given sentences of at least five years in jail and three strokes of the cane under the Long-Term (LT) Imprisonment scheme that was introduced here in 1998. Now, following amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, a distinction will be drawn between "pure" abusers who only consume drugs and those who face charges over other offences.
However, the change does not dilute the direction of the anti-drug war although it redraws the route to the destination. The retributive purpose of any law short of the death penalty - be that a law against drugs or any other crime - must be balanced by its rehabilitative potential. Long detention periods affect abusers' ability to reintegrate themselves into society, with the five-year recidivism rates for LT inmates remaining very high at 60 per cent. Sadly, such former abusers are also less able to hold down a job after a long period in jail and often become estranged from their families and communities.