War on drugs more challenging as other countries loosen stance: Shanmugam

Minister for Law K. Shanmugam (far right) speaking to hosts The Flying Dutchman and Angelique Teo on OneFM 91.3's The Big Show on July 20, 2022. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore's fight against drugs is made more challenging each time countries in the region loosen their drug laws, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (July 20).

Fortunately, public support for the Republic's zero-tolerance stance remains high, and the Government will continue to get across the serious ramifications that societies face when they fail to keep drugs under control, he added.

Speaking on OneFM 91.3's The Big Show, he said: "It really is incumbent upon us to present the choices in very vivid terms and persuade our people, including young people, that we have to make the right choices for them and for society."

Cannabis has been legalised in countries such as Canada, Uruguay and certain states in the United States.

Malaysia allowed cannabis use for medicinal purposes last year, and it was reported last month that Indonesian lawmakers will discuss a plan to take a similar approach. Also in June, Thailand delisted cannabis from its narcotics list, though the public smoking of marijuana remains illegal.

Mr Shanmugam said one of the key problems that countries in the region face is an inability to enforce laws given that too many of their people are into drugs, but that is not the case in Singapore.

While the Republic's correction system has been remodelled to help drug abusers kick the habit rather than treat them as criminals, its laws remain very strict against people who produce and traffic drugs, he added.

"The masterminds are clever enough not to come into Singapore because they know that unlike some of the other countries in the region and elsewhere in the world, in Singapore, there is no safe haven."

He added: "When we catch them, they face the death penalty."

This has substantially reduced the amount of drugs flowing into Singapore, said Mr Shanmugam.

He cited a survey by the Ministry of Home Affairs on people from places in the region where most arrested drug traffickers here are from. It found that about 83 per cent said the death penalty made people not want to traffic substantial amounts of drugs in Singapore, while 69 per cent said the death penalty was more effective than life imprisonment in deterring people from committing serious crimes.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked if the loosening of the drug stance by neighbouring countries could prompt youth here to want the same thing.

A survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) in 2020 found that support among youth aged 18 to 30 for Singapore's zero-tolerance approach to drugs was 82.5 per cent, lower than the 88.3 per cent for those above the age of 30.

The minister said there will always be a group of people who might want Singapore to go in that direction.

"Each time our neighbours do something like that, it increases the challenge that we have," he said.

On the NCADA survey, he said the results are a little worrying. But taken in context, more than eight in 10 youth here support Singapore's approach.

This is also why the Government will continue to raise awareness on the damage drugs have done to other countries and the impact on the next generation, Mr Shanmugam added.

"You get places, first-world cities where you have entire neighbourhoods that are slums and the young kids are growing up - bright young kids - but what choices do they have (when) faced with drugs, dealing in drugs, needles and otherwise?" he asked.

"If we bring this across to people, I think they will understand better."

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