Singapore’s Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
Apart from Singapore’s notorious ban on chewing gum, foreigners also associate Singapore with her draconian drug laws, known to be one of the strictest around the world.
In contrast, certain more drug-liberal countries such as Belgium or the United States have more relaxed drug policies. For example, marijuana (also known as cannabis) is strictly outlawed in Singapore but is legal to a certain extent in certain American states.
Other examples of drugs prohibited in Singapore include cocaine, opium, heroin, “ice”, ketamine (also known as “special K”) and ecstasy, and are collectively known as “controlled drugs” under the Singapore Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA).
The MDA contains Singapore’s law on drugs. Under the MDA, there are three main types of drug offences:
1. Drug Possession
It is an offence under section 8(a) of the MDA to possess controlled drugs. The penalty for possessing drugs is a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment, or a fine of $20,000 or both.
As of 1 June 2023, the maximum penalties for the possession of the following controlled drugs, above certain weight thresholds, have increased to 30 years’ imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane:
- Cannabis resin;
- Cannabis mixture; and
For example, the penalties for possessing less than 330g of cannabis is 10 years’ imprisonment, or a fine of $20,000 or both. Whereas, possessing between 330g and 500g of cannabis will now result in 20 years’ imprisonment and 10 strokes of the cane while possessing more than 500g of cannabis will result in the maximum penalties of 30 years’ imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.
Presumption of drug possession
The law adopts several presumptions to facilitate drug enforcement in relation to the investigation, search, and arrest of offenders under the MDA.
For example, if the police finds a packet of special K at your house that your friend left behind after a party, under section 18 of the MDA you are presumed to possess that drug, and to have known that it was a prohibited drug, unless you can prove otherwise.
2. Drug Consumption
The penalty for consuming either controlled or specified drugs is a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $20,000.
While the list of specified drugs is a subset of the list of controlled drugs, the distinction is important in terms of punishment for repeat offending.
The general penalty for repeat drug consumption of a controlled drug is imprisonment of at least 3 years.
However, in cases of specified drugs, you will be punished under section 33A if you have been previously:
- Admitted into an institution;
- Convicted for consuming a specified drug; and/or
- Convicted for an offence of failure to provide a urine specimen,
and are convicted once again for consuming a specified drug or failing to provide a urine specimen, you will be punished with imprisonment for at least 5 to 7 years and receive 3 to 6 strokes of the cane.
Urine tests and hair tests
Failure to provide a specimen of urine for a urine test, will result in a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment, or a fine of $20,000 or both.
Whereas, failure to provide specimens of your hair for a hair test is punishable with a maximum of 2 years’ imprisonment, or a fine of $5,000 or both.
Presumption of drug consumption
Additionally, under section 22 of the MDA, if a controlled drug is found in a person’s urine, he is presumed to have consumed the drug illegally under section 8(b) of the MDA. This is unless he can prove that the drug consumption was involuntary, which can be a difficult burden to discharge.
Therefore, reasons such as “I did not know that the pill my friend gave me was ecstasy!” are unlikely to hold water.
Possession of drug consumption apparatus
Even if you pass the urine test, possessing apparatus used for consuming controlled drugs, like pipes, syringes and other utensils can also land you in jail for a maximum of 3 years or a fine of $10,000 or both.
Can Singaporeans legally consume drugs overseas?
More adventurous Singaporeans might think that the laws under the MDA only apply within Singapore, and that they can get away scot-free by consuming drugs overseas. This cannot be further from the truth.
Under section 8A of the MDA, a Singapore citizen or permanent resident who consumes drugs abroad will be dealt with as if that offence had been committed within Singapore and punished accordingly.
3. Drug Trafficking
The most serious of the trio is the offence of drug trafficking under section 5 of the MDA.
If you are involved in selling, transporting, delivering, distributing or even offering to do any of these acts, you would be committing an offence.
On the other hand, you can also be convicted if you order someone else to transport any controlled drug. This also applies to trafficking drugs on someone else’s behalf, regardless of whether that person is in Singapore.
A point to note is that under the MDA, trafficking drugs and importing/exporting drugs are different, but both are offences under the Act.
Presumption of drug possession for the purpose of trafficking
If the quantity of drugs in your possession exceeds a certain amount, as stipulated under section 17 of the MDA, you are presumed to possess the drugs for the purpose of trafficking.
For example, if you are found with up to 25 grammes of ice, you can only be charged with possession. But if you have more than 25 grammes of ice in your possession, you can be charged with drug trafficking instead.
Penalty for drug trafficking
For example, if you are convicted of trafficking controlled drugs containing more than 250 grammes of “ice”, you will face a mandatory death penalty.
However, with effect from 1 January 2013, convicted drug traffickers may be able to avoid the mandatory death penalty if they can prove that they were only couriers in charge of transporting, sending or delivering the drug.
Additionally, it has to be shown that:
- They had either “substantively assisted” the Central Narcotics Bureau (the government agency in charge of drug enforcement in Singapore, also known as CNB) in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore; or
- They were suffering from a condition that substantially impaired their mental responsibility for their actions.
In such circumstances, the drug trafficker may be sentenced to life imprisonment instead. If the drug trafficker managed to avoid the death penalty on the basis of having “substantively assisted” CNB, he must also be caned up to 15 strokes.
Currently, the extent of assistance the drug trafficker must have given in order for his efforts to be regarded as “substantive” is unclear, and is entirely at the Public Prosecutor’s discretion.
You can read more about the death penalty in Singapore in our other article.
Rehabilitation for Drug Addicts
A drug addict is someone who has developed a desire or need to continue consuming drugs, or is dependent on the effects of drugs.
If the Director of CNB suspects that you are a drug addict, you may be required to be medically examined and observed, or be subject to urine and/or hair testing.
Through the results of the examination, you may be ordered to be admitted into a rehabilitation centre to undergo treatment and rehabilitation for 6 months (extendable up to 3 years) at the Drug Rehabilitation Centres (DRCs). This only applies if you are arrested solely for drug consumption.
Such an order would be in imposed in lieu of a jail sentence for first and second-time drug abusers. After that, if you are arrested for drug consumption again, you will be tried in court and upon conviction, will face a long-term prison sentence. As of 1 June 2023, the Director may order you, at any point throughout your life, to report for a urine test to ensure that you are no longer a drug addict.
Youth drug addicts aged 16 to below 21, will be placed in a 6-month residence at the Community Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) upon being detained in the DRC.
Nevertheless, proposed changes to the MDA discusses detaining third-time and subsequent repeat drug abusers who have not committed other crimes in the DRC, to a maximum of 4 years in cases of high-risk repeat drug abusers.
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