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Up to 30 years’ jail for possession of drugs including cannabis with roll-out of stricter drug laws from June

SINGAPORE – Drug offenders could face up to 30 years’ jail and 15 strokes of the cane for possession of eight types of narcotics – including cannabis – from Thursday, with the roll-out of enhanced penalties passed in Parliament in March.

Sentencing will be based on a tiered framework for the possession of morphine, diamorphine, opium, cocaine, cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabis mixture and methamphetamine – otherwise known as Ice – above certain weight thresholds.

Under the first tier, offenders caught in possession of less than 330g of cannabis could face up to a maximum of 10 years’ jail or a fine of up to $20,000, or both.

In the middle tier, those convicted of possession of between 330g and 500g of cannabis face between 10 and 20 years’ jail, and between five and 10 strokes of the cane.

Offenders in the highest tier, who are charged with possession of more than 500g of cannabis, could be jailed between 20 and 30 years, and receive between 10 and 15 strokes of the cane.

The previous penalty for possession of any controlled drug, regardless of weight, was a maximum of 10 years’ jail, or a fine of up to $20,000, or both.

The Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) already provides for a presumption clause based on weight thresholds.

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Anyone who is proven to possess more than 100g of opium, 3g of morphine, 2g of diamorphine, 15g of cannabis, 30g of cannabis mixture, 10g of cannabis resin, 3g of cocaine or 25g of methamphetamine is presumed to be trafficking unless proven otherwise.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told The Straits Times that the latest amendments to the MDA will not affect the existing legislation in relation to presumption concerning trafficking.

“The amendments relate only to the offence of possession of a controlled drug. The charges to be preferred against a subject, be it possession or trafficking, are determined after the prosecution has considered all evidence comprehensively,” the spokesman added.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) will continue to investigate offenders caught with large quantities of drugs, to determine if the drugs were meant for trafficking or their own consumption.

Under current laws, offenders could face the death penalty for the illegal trafficking, importing or exporting of certain amounts of the same eight drugs.

The enhanced penalties for drug possession are part of a slate of changes that kicked in on Thursday, following amendments to the MDA.

They include a provision that allows the director of the CNB to recall any former drug abuser to report for a urine test at any time throughout his life, to ensure that he is no longer a drug addict.

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The director of the CNB will also be able to recall a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) serviceman convicted of drug consumption under the SAF Act and subject him to a urine test.

Amendments to the MDA also clarify that CNB officers may make seizures based on reasonable suspicion, aligning their powers of investigation with those provided for under the Criminal Procedure Code.

The enhanced penalties come amid concerns that the global drug situation is worsening.

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Forum Against Drugs at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre last Friday, Minister for Communications and Information and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo noted that cannabis use by those above 12 years old increased by 26 per cent in the US state of Colorado after it legalised the drug in 2012.

She added that from 2019 to 2021, hospitals in the state saw an increase in newborns affected by maternal marijuana use, and a doubling of the rate of cannabis-related hospitalisations of children under six years old.

In Parliament in March, Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim noted that young people were abusing drugs more than adults were.

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Citing the 2022 World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), he said that drug abuse among youth has reached record levels in many countries.

He added that “the number of deaths, worldwide, associated with drug abuse increased by 17.5 per cent between 2009 and 2019, reaching about half a million deaths in 2019”.

The tiered sentencing framework for possession was introduced to address the greater harms that could be caused by people who are willing to risk being in possession of large quantities of drugs to feed local demand.

Dr Faishal said CNB had seen drug syndicates shift towards dealing in larger quantities of narcotics per transaction.

In September 2022, CNB seized 13kg of drugs, including 8kg of cannabis, and in May that year, it seized 18kg of heroin.

“These were exceptionally large seizures, amounting to millions of dollars in street value,” said Dr Faishal in Parliament.

The MHA said the remaining provisions of the MDA, relating to a new framework for psychoactive substances, will take effect in the first half of 2024.

The UNODC defines new psychoactive substances (NPS) as substances of abuse which are not controlled by international drug-control conventions.

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