The fight against drug abuse and the need to counter misinformation surrounding cannabis are critical measures that must be taken today, said Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs.
Mrs Teo, who was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Forum Against Drugs at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre yesterday, said that behind overseas campaigns for the legalisation of cannabis are big corporations with the spending power to push for their agenda.
"If they succeed, the drug situation could become even more grim," she said at the conference co-organised by the World Federation Against Drugs and National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA).
The 2019 World Drug Report said one in every 18 people in the world had used drugs at least once in the previous year, an increase of more than 30 per cent from a decade ago.
"Already, almost 12 million, or more than a third of young Americans, reported cannabis abuse in 2018. This is the highest level of cannabis use since 2002. With legalisation, these numbers will rise," said Mrs Teo.
Impressionable youth are a concern. A Ministry of Home Affairs survey last year found that respondents from 13 to 30 years old "generally hold a more liberal view on drugs, particularly cannabis".
In the United States, Canada and Uruguay, cannabis liberalisation has permeated communities and targeted the young.
Mr Bob McCoskrie, a speaker at the conference, said cannabis-infused candies, nasal sprays, mineral water and vape liquids are prevalent, and so are "gas and grass" petrol stations that sell marijuana.
He is the director of Family First New Zealand, which is campaigning towards a 2020 referendum to prevent the legalisation of cannabis in New Zealand. He said big corporations know that if they get young people addicted to cannabis, "you'll get clients for life".
"We're not talking about Woodstock weed," said Mr McCoskrie, who pointed out that tetrahydrocannabinol levels in cannabis today are more potent than before.
Since legalising cannabis, traffic deaths in Colorado involving motorists on cannabis more than doubled from 2013 to 2017. In Los Angeles, Mrs Teo said, "the placement of a cannabis dispensary in 2014 was associated with a 250 per cent increase in homicides, and almost 50 per cent increase in robberies".
The cannabis market is projected to be a US$75 billion (S$102 billion) industry in global sales by 2030.
But the confusion over medical cannabis as a "miracle drug" needs to be debunked, said Mrs Teo. "What we are concerned about is parties claiming that unprocessed or raw cannabis is 'medical cannabis'," she added.
Mrs Teo said "medical cannabis" should refer only to cannabinoids - cannabis plant compounds - that have been safety-and effectiveness-tested in controlled clinical trials.
Dr Chew Tuan Chiong, NCADA vice-chairman, said Singapore's drug-control policy focuses on prevention, enforcement, treatment and rehabilitation, in partnership with the Singapore Government, non-governmental organisations and the community.
"The Singapore model demonstrates how this tripartite configuration can and must work hand in hand," he said.