Drug Laws in Singapore versus Southeast Asia: Who’s Got It Right?
Southeast Asia has its problems with drug trafficking and substance abuse, and each country in the region has been tackling this issue differently. Are Singapore’s strict drug laws the most ideal way to combat drugs or does any one of its neighbours have a better policy?
Singapore Has Some of the World’s Strictest Drug Laws
Singapore’s drug laws are known globally for delivering some of the strictest penalties for drug possession and drug use. However, Singapore also has some of the lowest rates for drug use among its citizens.
While some hail Singapore as a benchmark to follow in regard to combating illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin, human rights groups have long-voiced concern that the death penalty that the country doles out is too strict. In 2012, the government altered the laws slightly to offer life in prison sentences rather than the death penalty to some drug couriers, depending on the situation.
Despite this, Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act still mandates a death sentence for anyone found in possession of over 30g of cocaine, 500g of cannabis or 250g of methamphetamine. Those accused of such offenses ‘until the contrary is proved, are to be presumed to have had that drug in his possession.’ The mandatory death penalty by hanging for drug kingpins or distributors remains.
It is these strict laws that make Singapore’s citizens think twice about using drugs, or trafficking them into the country. Still, these laws are very strict compared to the laws of western countries in regard to drug possession or distribution.
Is Singapore really too strict on its citizens, or are some of its neighbours better examples of what laws and punishments are (or could be) the ultimate drug deterrent? Let’s consider this.
Malaysia has as equally strict drug laws as Singapore. Under Malaysia’s Dangerous Drugs Act, the government can execute any person found trafficking drugs or in possession of drugs, and death sentences for couriers are often imposed.
Malaysia is a much larger country than Singapore and has a considerable ocean territory. With Malaysia sharing the only land border with Singapore, this means that the majority of drugs in Singapore come through Malaysia.
Having such strict laws does not seem to stop drug trafficking altogether, with 18 Malaysians caught trying to smuggle drugs into the country as recently as March 2016. Since Thailand also carries the death penalty for possession of heroin, it is irrelevant which side of the border the men were caught, although Thailand does not execute as many people as Malaysia for drug offences.
With Thailand being one of the larger producers of drugs in Southeast Asia, it is one country that perhaps should tighten up the enforcement of its drug laws and punishments. Thailand’s Narcotics Act has a discretionary death penalty for producers, importers or exporters of hard drugs, including opium. However, Thailand, at least nowadays, is conservative about sentencing the death penalty; between 2010-2015, there were no state sanctioned executions.
Indonesia also has strict drug laws and prescribes the death penalty for the trafficking of hard drugs, with lesser penalties for softer drugs such as marijuana.
Since the geography of Indonesia consists of approximately 17,000 islands, 11,000 of them uninhabited, it is virtually impossible to control the borders or thoroughly locate the growing or manufacturing of drugs. This is in part why Indonesia’s laws for trafficking and distribution are so strict.
Indonesia, along with Thailand and the ‘Golden Triangle’ area, the region where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar intersect, which has ideal conditions for opium growing and trafficking, are the primary producers of drugs found in Singapore.
Drug Laws Elsewhere, as Models?
Australia does not impose a death penalty for the trafficking or possession of large quantities of illegal drugs. Rather, states in Australia impose prison sentences of between 15-25 years for drug trafficking.
Since Australia’s rules are not as stringent as Singapore’s laws, and the retail price of drugs in Australia is high, this encourages drug suppliers and distributors to target Australians. The demand for drugs in Australia is steadily increasing as illegal highs are becoming cheaper than alcohol. Singapore could potentially face a similar problem in the future if the drug laws were to be relaxed because many Singaporeans can afford to pay the high prices for drugs.
Another model is that of Portugal, which decriminalised drug use and focuses more on treating addiction as a health issue.
Over the past 15 years, this has radically changed Portugal from a country with one of the highest drug related death rates to the second lowest in Europe. While Portugal still punishes drug dealers and manufacturers, citizens found with less than a 10-day supply of drugs are given rehabilitation treatment rather than a fine or jail time.
Should Singapore Change Its Drug Laws?
With Singapore’s neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia imposing similarly strict laws for using, possessing or trafficking drugs, it is perhaps logical that Singapore, like its neighbours, maintain the death penalty for drug trafficking or distribution. Otherwise, it is likely that the country will become flooded with illegal drugs, since it is the richest country in the region and its citizens can afford to pay high prices for them.
Imposing high penalties and even the death sentence on those involved with drugs reduces the incentives to use or traffic them. While the death sentence may seem too strict, it is the fastest way to decrease demand for drugs. If Thailand as a major drug producer, for example, were to tighten up its drug laws, then it is likely that Singapore and other countries in the region would experience the ripple effects of having a lesser supply of drugs, and so over time lower drug usage.
For now, Singapore’s strict drug laws seem to be working, especially given that neighbouring countries have similarly strict laws. But perhaps the Singapore government could look into ways of increasing addiction treatment options for those that are caught using or in possession of drugs and therefore negate the need for citizens to look for drugs in the first place.
Treatment Rather Than Criminalisation Is Often the Solution
When it comes to jailing drug users, it is important to note that substance addiction can be and often is rooted in environmental circumstances such as childhood trauma and even genetics. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly in regard to this discussion about drug laws, substance addiction is a brain based illness that requires cognitive treatment in order to rid it from someone’s life.
While drug laws certainly play a role in mediating the effects that drugs have on society, simply jailing people, especially those who are suffering from substance addiction, for drug related offences is likely not going to solve the core issues. Unless undergoing addiction treatment is an integrated part of their jail time, they will likely still be addicted upon leaving jail and be at high risk of returning to drug related patterns, including crime.
If you or someone you know is struggling with any type of substance abuse (or process addiction), we at The Cabin Singapore have trained addiction specialists who can use their vast experience to provide effective addiction treatment that can ensure your long-term addiction recovery.
Contact one of our qualified drug addiction counsellors today and get a free and no-obligations assessment for you or someone close to you, so that you can get started on the path to long-term recovery.