MPs outline ways to strengthen Singapore's fight against drugs

One way: Base penalties on drugs' potential for harm, not just the weight

A drug arrest during a raid last year. The number arrested for buying drugs and related paraphernalia online rose from 30 in 2015 to 201 last year.
A drug arrest during a raid last year. The number arrested for buying drugs and related paraphernalia online rose from 30 in 2015 to 201 last year.ST FILE PHOTO

As drugs can be mixed with other substances to increase their potency and addictiveness, this potential for harm should be taken into consideration when determining penalties for drug offences, and not simply their weight, Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) said yesterday.

Tabling a motion in Parliament on strengthening Singapore's fight against drugs - for which 10 MPs spoke in support - Mr De Souza outlined this as one of several ways to improve the Misuse of Drugs Act.

He also called for the Act to be regularly reviewed to ensure that it has the "legal muscle it needs" to deter supply and demand of controlled substances.

Mr De Souza, who is the chairman of the Home Affairs and Law Government Parliamentary Committee and a lawyer, noted that in the United States, heroin has been mixed with elephant tranquilliser to create a deadly mixture that has caused many to overdose.

"This contamination is driven by greed - more effect, with lower cost to produce," he said.

His second suggestion was to incorporate controlled drugs more quickly under the First Schedule, which lists the most harmful and addictive drugs and attracts the most severe penalties. A swift reaction is needed as syndicates are constantly attempting to come up with new types of substances, added Mr De Souza.

Third, the sale of drugs over the Internet should be made a unique offence, attracting a higher penalty, as should recruiting people online to traffic in drugs.

This proposal follows a spike in the number of people arrested for buying drugs and related paraphernalia online. According to the Central Narcotics Bureau, the figure rose from 30 in 2015 to 201 last year. Significantly more young abusers - aged under 30 - have also been arrested since 2014, said Mr De Souza.

With more youth experimenting with drugs and the Internet able to facilitate sales, Singapore should consider how to legislate an aggravated offence if social media or the Internet is used to procure sales, he said.

"This may deter drug traffickers from using the Internet to advertise sales, potentially leading to reduced drug sales to youth," he said.

Mr De Souza also proposed a different tier of punishment for traffickers who target abusers under 30, as well as those who use the Internet to do so. "The Internet" could mean websites, social media and mobile apps such as WhatsApp, he said.

Other MPs stressed the need to focus on rehabilitation on top of enforcement, suggesting initiatives to help tackle drug abuse in schools, communities and families.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun suggested using the arts, such as drama, to occupy inmates' minds. This could help them spend less time thinking of ways to beat the system, and more time thinking about what they can do for others.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) suggested adapting innovative ways of preventive drug education. In some kindergartens in Germany, for example, children are placed in a toy-free environment for a short period of time to strengthen them against addictive behaviour.

Responding to Mr De Souza's motion, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the Government was reviewing its strategy on the war on drugs.

In arguing for a tough stance, MPs stressed the impact of drugs on families, among other issues.

Mr De Souza noted, for example, that 15g of diamorphine feeds about 180 abusers for a week. This translates to about 900 people affected if each addict has four family members.

He said: "That is equivalent to about 30 platoons. If a person ran towards 30 platoons with a grenade, should not a lethal shot be fired to protect the 900 people?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'MPs outline ways to strengthen Singapore's fight against drugs'. Subscribe