SINGAPORE - Drug addicts who surrender to the authorities because they want to kick the habit could get a shorter detention, under proposed changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act.
They can do it twice in their lifetime, said Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 15).
The offer is open to drug abusers who are eligible for stays in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC).
Another proposed change is that from Wednesday (Jan 16), these addicts will not be charged for minor drug-related offences - with the agreement of the Attorney-General's Chambers - so that they can go for rehabilitation instead.
"We also want drug abusers to come forward voluntarily for rehab, so moving forward, drug abusers who voluntarily submit themselves to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) will be considered for a shorter detention in DRC, " said Mr Shanmugam.
The move towards a greater focus on rehabilitation is prompted by research showing that long detention periods affect the abusers' ability to reintegrate into society.
Also, there is a decline in the number of arrests of abusers each year: from just under 6,000 in 1996 to slightly above 3,000 last year.
"We can now afford to shift the balance... to focus more on rehabilitation," Mr Shanmugam said.
In his speech, he also spelt out who are the addicts eligible for DRC. They include those who admit, when caught, to consuming drugs for the third time and more, and who do not face any other criminal offences.
Currently, those caught for drug consumption for the third time or more are sentenced to long-term imprisonment with heavier penalties. Such a sentence include a minimum jail term of five years and three strokes of the cane.
The changes are quite significant, said Mr Shanmugam, adding that one out of every two of these recalcitrants could be channelled to the rehabilitation regime.
Other key features of the proposed new law include an enhanced direct supervision order (EDSO) for first-time abusers who are unlikely to take drugs again. These people are given a non-custodial supervision order with compulsory counselling, instead of going through the DRC regime.
Drug abusers will also be placed under a longer period of supervision of five years, up from two years now, where they would have to report to the CNB for urine or hair testing.
The reason is that the recidivism rates of such former abusers drop quite sharply after five years, especially for those who can keep a job, said Mr Shanmugam.
Another new feature in the Drug Misuse (Amendment) Bill is the mandatory minimum sentence of one year for those convicted for drug consumption for the first time and are deemed unsuitable for the DRC. This sentence would also apply to those who fail to provide a urine or hair specimen.