The Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) is Singapore’s primary legislation governing drug-related offences. It sets out the penalties for offences such as trafficking, manufacturing, importing, exporting, possessing, and using illegal drugs.
Additionally, the MDA outlines the responsibilities of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) for enforcing drug-related laws and offers provisions for the rehabilitation and treatment of individuals who have been convicted of drug offences.
In 2023, Parliament passed the MDA (Amendment) Bill 2023 (“MDA Bill”), which proposes a new legislative framework for New Psychoactive Substances (“NPS”). The new measures will control substances based on their ability to induce psychoactive effects rather than their chemical composition.
Additionally, the MDA Bill will bridge the previous gap where authorities were unable to take action against traffickers and abusers who quickly switch to NPS that are not yet listed as controlled drugs.
In Singapore, the number of NPS abusers arrested has increased significantly in the last few years. Between 2014 and 2017, the total number of NPS abusers arrested was 11. The number has since grown to an average of about 235 abusers each year between 2018 to 2022.
Many of these NPS abuses have been linked to adverse physical and psychological reactions, including paranoia, seizures, hallucinations, and even death.
Read more: Statutory Offences — Misuse of Drugs Act.
Misuse of Drugs Act (Amendment) Bill 2023
Under the proposed amendments, both the MDA and the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore will be amended to:
- Establish a new legislative framework for psychoactive substances. It will criminalise the trafficking, manufacture, import, export, possession, and consumption of psychoactive substances. Additionally, the MDA will authorise the arrest and detention of abusers of psychoactive substances for treatment and rehabilitation; and
- Increase punishments for possessing large quantities of dangerous and harmful controlled substances.
MDA Bill and Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill
In addition to enhancing punishments for repeated offenders involving NPS or controlled drugs, the MDA Bill will provide Director of CNB with the powers to:
- commit a suspected abuser of psychoactive substances for medical examination or observation,
- subject an abuser of psychoactive substances to supervision, and
- commit an abuser of psychoactive substances to treatment and rehabilitation.
Accordingly, Article 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore will be amended to expressly encompass the new laws that permits the arrest and detention of persons abusing psychoactive substances for treatment and rehabilitation.
Overview of Key Amendments
- The MDA Bill introduces a new legal framework to control substances based on their ability to produce a psychoactive effect rather than their chemical structure. All such substances are defined as “psychoactive substances.” This new framework will allow the CNB to crack down on illegal activities related to psychoactive substances that are not yet classified as controlled drugs.
- The new regulatory framework will not apply to psychoactive substances that have legitimate uses or are controlled under other regulatory frameworks. Such substances will be specifically listed in a list of exclusions. Examples of such excluded substances include alcohol, tobacco, and food additives. Furthermore, the law provides that an accused person may assert a defence if the psychoactive substance is to be used for a legitimate purpose.
- Punishments under this legislative framework take reference from the punishment framework for Class C controlled drugs.
- If an offender has a previous conviction or enforcement action for trafficking a controlled drug and is then convicted of trafficking a psychoactive substance, they are considered a repeat offender and are subject to enhanced penalties for the trafficking offence.
- In Singapore, the drugs that cause the most severe harm are morphine, diamorphine, opium, cocaine, cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabis mixture, and methamphetamine. Thus, the MDA Bill proposes increased punishments, including caning, for possessing these drugs above certain weight thresholds.
FAQs on Singapore Drug Laws
What is the punishment for drug possession in Singapore?
Under section 8(a) of the MDA, possessing controlled drugs is an offence. Possession of drugs is punishable by:
- up to 10 years imprisonment, or
- a fine of $20,000
What is the punishment for drug consumption in Singapore?
Consuming a controlled or specified drug under section 8(b) of the MDA is an offence. The term “specified drugs” refers to certain controlled drugs listed separately in the Fourth Schedule.
In the case of controlled drugs or specified drugs, the maximum penalty for consumption is:
- 10 years imprisonment,
- a fine of $20,000, or
There are harsher punishments for repeat offenders and this differs in terms of the type of drugs involved, i.e., whether it is a specified drug or controlled drug.
The Court generally sends first or second-time offenders who do not face other concurrent charges to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) with shorter jail sentences. But those arrested for the third time or more face Long-Term (LT) imprisonment. LT sentences carry heavier penalties, with jail terms starting at five years and a minimum of three strokes of the cane.
Is it illegal to consume drugs outside of Singapore?
While consuming drugs may be legal in certain countries such as Cannabis in Thailand or the United States of America, if you are a Singapore citizen or permanent resident who smoked or administered a controlled or specified drug to yourself, you may be dealt with as if you committed that offence within Singapore.
What is the punishment for drug trafficking?
Depending on the class and quantity of drugs trafficked, the penalty can range from imprisonment to death. For instance, a person who trafficked drugs containing more than 250 grams of Methamphetamine (Street Name: “ice”) faces the mandatory death penalty if convicted.
However, as of 1 January 2013, the Public Prosecutor has the discretion to grant alleged traffickers a “Certificate of Substantive Assistance” which may allow them to avoid the mandatory death penalty if they are able to prove that they were merely couriers who were transporting, sending, or delivering the drugs.
In conclusion, the new sentencing framework seeks to account for the potential harm that persons with large amounts of drugs in their possession could cause.
What Can GJC Law Do to Help?
If you are convicted of drug-related offences in Singapore, it is highly recommended that you seek the help of a law firm.
A law firm can help you navigate complex legal procedures and provide you with the necessary legal representation to protect your rights and interests.
Here are some ways in which a law firm can help you if you are convicted of drug-related offences in Singapore:
- Legal Representation: GJC Law can provide legal representation in court and help you defend yourself against the charges. We can review the evidence against you, analyse the legal arguments, and develop a strategic defence plan to help reduce or dismiss the charges.
- Mitigation: If you are found guilty of a drug-related offence, GJC Law can help you mitigate the severity of the sentence by presenting mitigating factors to the court. The factors could include your age, personal circumstances, and the extent of your involvement in the offence.
- Sentence Reduction: In some cases, GJC Law may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution, which could lead to a reduction in the charges or a more lenient sentence. Negotiations would require GJC Law to work closely with the prosecution to reach an agreement beneficial to both parties.
- Appeal: If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your trial, GJC Law can help you appeal the decision to a higher court. This appeal would involve a review of the legal arguments and evidence presented in your case and could result in a reduction or reversal of your sentence.
Overall, GJC Law can provide valuable legal advice, representation, and support if you are convicted of drug-related offences in Singapore. We can help you navigate complex legal procedures and provide the best possible outcome for your case.
GJC Law credits Noelle Teoh for her research and advice.