53% want S'pore to explore legalising cannabis for medical use: Survey

Attitudes towards the use of cannabis have become more liberal in some societies, including in Thailand. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Slightly more than half of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents surveyed recently believe the Republic should consider legalising cannabis for medical purposes.

Asked whether Singapore should consider legalising cannabis only for medical purposes, 53 per cent said "yes".

More than a third, or 35 per cent, said "no" to any legalisation, and the remaining 12 per cent voted "yes" to legalising its use for both medical and recreational purposes.

Attitudes towards the use of cannabis have become more liberal in some societies, including in Thailand, which legalised the growing and consumption of cannabis in June.

The survey, commissioned by The Sunday Times and carried out by consumer research company Milieu Insight in September, also showed differences in views across age groups.

Nearly three in five, or 59 per cent, of those aged 16 to 34 voted "yes" to legalising cannabis only for medical purposes.

This dropped to 57 per cent for those aged 35 to 44, 50 per cent for those aged 45 to 54, and 44 per cent for those aged 55 and above.

The use of cannabis for medical purposes is extremely rare in Singapore. The drug is also known as marijuana or weed.

The Straits Times has reported that since 2019, two people who suffer from treatment-resistant epilepsy were granted permission to use cannabis-derived medication here.

At a Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association conference on Thursday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore based its policies on evidence and science, which clearly show cannabis use is harmful. It does allow controlled access to cannabis-derived medication where other options have been exhausted.

He said: "If a doctor tells me, and doctors do say in Singapore, they need to use cannabis, we allow. If doctors prescribe it under certain conditions for a patient, we will approve... But that should be a choice of doctors, not pharma companies selling through shops."

A 2015 study by the Institute of Mental Health found that there was some medical evidence to support the use of purified synthetic cannabinoids for the treatment of limited conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis - a disease of the brain and spinal cord.

But the use of cannabinoids has to be weighed against potential side effects, as information on their long-term safety and efficacy is scarce, said the study.

The ST survey found that the majority of Singaporeans, across all age groups, believe the use of cannabis is harmful, although some acknowledge it could be beneficial if it is used for medical purposes.

It found 13 per cent said cannabis is harmful and has no medical benefits, while 44 per cent said it is harmful for recreational use, but may be beneficial if used for medical purposes. However, 38 per cent of respondents said they did not know enough about cannabis.

Only 4 per cent believe cannabis is not harmful at all.

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For former drug addict turned lawyer Darren Tan of Invictus Law, his experience has affected his take on whether laws should be amended. He started abusing cannabis before becoming addicted to methamphetamine, and spent over 10 years behind bars.

He said he probably would have died from a meth overdose if he had not been arrested. "While I am pro-choice on most issues, I also have witnessed first-hand the immense harm associated with drug use - so I remain neutral on this issue," he said.

Singapore Management University's associate professor of law Eugene Tan said the Republic cannot afford to give up its zero-tolerance approach. He said: "Even if there is a softening of attitudes towards drug abuse, it does not follow that our drug-control strategy is not working. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water."

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