Young people in Singapore have a more liberal attitude towards cannabis than other drugs, according to a Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) survey.
It also shows that a lower proportion, or 80 per cent, of those aged 13 to 30 felt that cannabis is harmful and should remain illegal. This compares with 89 per cent among those who are older.
In addition, about 70 per cent of young respondents believe consuming cannabis is harmful, compared with 84 per cent in the older age group.
These findings, released yesterday, reflect how the younger generation sees cannabis as a "soft" drug, unlike "hard" drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine, said addiction specialist Thomas Lee, medical director and consultant psychiatrist at Resilienz Clinic.
"One reason is the harmful impact of cannabis is not seen immediately," he said, as it could take a long time for abusers to become addicts.
Some countries are also legalising or discussing allowing the use of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. Last December, Thailand decided to allow the use of medical cannabis, with the law expected to take effect later this year. Malaysia reportedly started talks on it late last year.
Exposure to cannabis in the media has also changed young people's perceptions of the drug, said Dr Lee, who has seen young patients with depression or anxiety disorders turning to cannabis to self-medicate. "The younger group seems to perceive it as a more acceptable substance and therefore think it is not harmful to health," he said.
The findings also come in the wake of an increasing number of new drug abusers below age 20 getting arrested: Last year's figures show that the number has risen 30 per cent.
The overall findings, however, show strong support against cannabis legalisation. More than 80 per cent agree consumption of cannabis is addictive, harmful and should remain illegal in Singapore.
Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said the findings show strong domestic support for Singapore's zero-tolerance approach towards drugs, which underpins the positive and improving drug situation.
He added: "However, there is an increasing push internationally for drug liberalisation, driven also by commercial interests.
"The stakes are high. If we let up, there are consequences for the safety and health of our people, our children and future generations."
MHA said the study would help improve the effectiveness of its preventive drug education strategy aimed at making young people aware of the harmful effect of drugs, particularly cannabis.
Tan Tam Mei