Singapore has some of the most stringent drug laws in the world.
If caught in possession of just small amounts of illicit drugs, you can potentially face either 10 years of jail time or a $20,000 fine. However, the sentencing can differ depending on the type and quantity of the drugs.
Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act is the primary legislation for drug offences. This legislation covers the scope of drug offences, penalties, possession and consumption of controlled drugs, and other drug-related offences.
Yet despite these anti-drug laws, reports of people getting arrested over drug-related charges are still rampant in Singapore. In 2022 alone, eight people faced the death penalty after receiving a drug-trafficking conviction.
Nevertheless, it’s vital to understand Singapore’s different drug offences and related punishments.
Examining the Misuse of Drugs Act offers a glimpse into how Singapore Courts can potentially handle drug Court cases.
This article discusses the most commonly recorded drug-related crimes in Singapore, namely:
What Are The Different Drug Classes In Singapore?
Controlled substances are categorised into three classes in the Misuse of Drugs Act: Class A, Class B, and Class C. These drug classifications can be crucial, especially for the accused individual.
The classes can predict the extent of the punishment for drug use, whether imprisonment or penalty.
Below are some examples of illicit drugs, classified accordingly:
- Class A – Amphetamine, methamphetamine, ketamine, cannabis/cannabinol, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, morphine, opium, mescaline
- Class B – Codeine, zipeprol, dextropropoxyphene, dihydrocodeine, nicocodeine, pholcodine, phencyclidine (PCP)
- Class C – Mephentermine, pipradrol, Alprazolam (xanax), hexobarbital, pentobarbital, pipradrol, triazolam (halcion)
Singapore Drug Offences
While offences related to illicit drugs fall under trafficking, possession, consumption, manufacturing, importation or exportation, we will cover only the first three.
According to Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, “it shall be an offence for a person to have controlled drugs in his or her possession”.
The Second Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act states that if found guilty of unauthorised possession of such controlled substances, they can be sentenced to maximum 10 years of imprisonment, or face a $20,000 fine, or both. Repeat offenders will receive a minimum sentence of 2 years in prison.
Again, the sentencing will depend on the drug class and quantity discovered on the person. However, the drug offence isn’t that clear-cut.
We must consider several presumptions, which can be found in Sections 18 and 21.
Section 18: Presumption Of Possession And Knowledge Of Controlled Drugs
A person is said to be possessing drugs or in custody/control of such drugs if they have:
- Anything which contains a controlled drug;
- The keys to anything containing a controlled drug;
- The keys to any place, premises, or location, or any part thereof where a controlled drug is discovered; or
- A document of title relating to controlled drugs or any document intended for the delivery of a controlled drug
All of these presumptions relate back to the accused. This means that even if the drugs aren’t in your physical possession, the Courts can still find you guilty based on these presumptions.
The accused person will carry the burden of guilt until it is proven otherwise that they are in knowledge of the drug’s nature. Let’s provide a scenario for better illustration.
Say your friend leaves a packet of marijuana in your house after a night of partying and the police find it.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the drug was yours. The police will presume you are in possession of the drug, even if you’ve never seen or touched it. You will be burdened with proving yourself innocent.
Section 21: Presumption Relating To Vehicles
According to this section, any controlled drug found in a vehicle is presumed to be in the vehicle owner’s possession until proven otherwise.
This presumption also states that you can still be charged even if you don’t own the vehicle but are in charge of it for the time being.
Section 8(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act states that consumption of any controlled or specified drug is considered an offence.
Specified drugs refer to controlled drugs listed in the Fourth Schedule. This distinction is critical, especially when it comes to sentencing repeat offenders.
Below are some examples:
“Consumption” in this case can mean either one of three things: smoking, administering to himself or herself; or consuming a controlled or specified drug.
Once convicted and found guilty, the penalty for consumption is a maximum 10-year prison term, a $20,000 fine, or both. The sentencing is the same as the maximum penalty for drug possession.
The punishment will ultimately depend on whether the accused person is a repeat offender, has had similar convictions on their record, or was previously admitted to a drug rehabilitation centre.
Sentencing for repeat consumption of controlled drugs is a 3-year prison term. But if the accused person is punished under Section 33(A), meaning they have previously been:
- Admitted to a drug rehabilitation institution
- Previously convicted for the consumption of a specified drug; and/or
- Previously convicted of an offence for failing to give a sample for a urine test
Instead of three years, the accused will be sentenced to at least 5 years (not exceeding 7 years of imprisonment).
In addition, they will undergo caning of 3 to 6 strokes. Caning is a form of corporal punishment in which a person is hit on their bare buttocks with a stick.
Hair And Urine Tests For Drug Consumption
The accused may need to provide a hair or urine sample for testing if suspected of consuming drugs.
Under the legislation, you will be imprisoned for at least 1 year, not exceeding 10 years, if you fail to provide a sample.
You will also receive a $20,000 fine for specified drug use, a jail term of at least 5 years (not exceeding 7), and 3-6 strokes from the cane.
Section 22: Presumption Of Drug Consumption
Similar to drug possessions, there are also presumptions relating to consumption.
The first is outlined under Section 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which states that if a controlled drug is detected in a person’s urine, they are presumed to have illegally consumed it.
Once again, the burden of proving innocence falls on the accused. Any reasoning or excuse, like: “I wasn’t aware that the brownies my friend gave me were laced with cannabis”, is not likely to be accepted by the Courts.
Section 19: Presumption Of Drug Consumption Apparatus
A drug conviction may not yet be cleared even if you have passed a urine test. Under Section 19, if you have been found in or caught escaping from an area which has been proven or presumed to be used for smoking or administering controlled drugs, you are presumed to be consuming them.
A place or location is presumed to be used for the consumption of illicit drugs if any of these are discovered on the premises:
- Tin foils
- Bongs or hookahs
- Any other apparatus used for smoking, administering, or consuming specified/controlled drugs
Consumption Of Drugs Overseas
Contrary to belief, the Misuse of Drugs Act laws also apply outside of Singapore. This means that Singapore citizens can still be convicted if they commit any drug offence under the legislation.
According to Section 8, any Singapore citizen or PR (Permanent Resident) that has consumed drugs overseas and has been discovered through a positive urine sample will be prosecuted as if they committed the offence in Singapore.
In Singapore, random drug tests are performed at entry points such as Changi Airport and Woodlands Checkpoint. These tests are done to determine whether or not travellers have taken drugs before entry into Singapore.
You cannot use the defence that the drug is legal in the country of origin or where you flew from.
Out of all the drug-related offences discussed, trafficking is the most serious, and offenders can face the death penalty for violating anti-drug trafficking laws.
The Misuse of Drugs Act defines trafficking as:
- Selling, administering, transporting, sending, delivering, or distributing; or
- Offering to do anything mentioned above
With these classifications, the scope of drug trafficking activities can be broad. Section 5 further states that trafficking is an offence:
“Except as authorised by this Act, it shall be an offence for a person, on his or her own behalf or on behalf of any other person, whether or not that other person is in Singapore —
- To traffic in a controlled drug
- To offer to traffic in a controlled drug; or
- To do or offer to do any act preparatory to or for the purpose of trafficking in a controlled drug”.
For example, even if you are not the mastermind of the drug trafficking operation, you may still be liable if you are found to be participating or benefitting from such activities.
Section 17: Presumption Of Intention
There can be some ambiguity as to the distinction between possession and trafficking. However, Section 17 outlines the Presumption of Intention.
It states that if the quantity of drugs on your person exceeds a specific threshold, you can possess them with the intent of trafficking.
Below are examples of such thresholds:
- 3g of morphine
- 3g of cocaine
- 2g of diamorphine
- 15g of cannabis
- 30g of cannabis mixture
Based on this understanding, if the police find more than 30g of cannabis in your possession, there is the presumption that you possessed it with the intention to traffic the drug. Otherwise, you will be charged only with possession.
What Is The Punishment For Drug Trafficking In Singapore?
The drug class and quantity will affect the type and extent of the sentencing. You can either be imprisoned, caned, or receive the death penalty.
For instance, if you receive a drug conviction of trafficking controlled drugs of more than 200g of cocaine, you will receive a mandatory death penalty.
However, convicted drug traffickers may avoid the mandatory death penalty if they provide evidence that they served as only couriers responsible for transporting, delivering, or sending the drug.
In addition, they can avoid the death penalty if:
- They had substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in the disruption of drug trafficking activities in Singapore or overseas; or
- They had a mental condition which had impaired their mental capacity to be responsible for their actions.
Instead of the death penalty, the drug trafficker may face life imprisonment and 15 strokes from the cane.
Drug Rehabilitation For Addicts
An addict is someone who has developed an addiction or desire to continue using drugs or is dependent on the drug’s effects.
Anyone suspected of being an addict by the CNB must undergo a medical examination and observation or provide urine/hair tests.
Based on the examination’s findings, the CNB will order you to be admitted to a rehabilitation institution for 6 months, which can be extended to 2 years at respective Drug Rehabilitation Centres (DRCs).
This will apply only if the police arrest you for consumption. This order will replace the jail sentence for first and repeat abusers.
If you are arrested again for drug-related offences, you may face a long-term prison sentence after a Court conviction.
Conclusion About The Misuse Of Drugs Act Singapore
Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act is wide-ranging legislation that covers everything relating to the control of drugs, from drug possession to trafficking. As the law can often confuse the layman, offenders may not necessarily understand the extent of their crime.
In such cases, it’s best to engage with a professional criminal lawyer in Singapore to assist with the details of your case.
Contact The Singapore Lawyer now and get a free 30-minute consultation where we offer initial advice for your situation.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Misuse Of Drugs Act Singapore
What Are The Most Abused Drugs In Singapore?
Statistics from 2019 show that methamphetamine, heroin, and NPS (New Psychoactive Substances) were the top three most commonly abused drugs in Singapore.
Are Psychedelics Legal In Singapore?
No. Illicit drugs of any form are strictly outlawed in Singapore.
Where Do I Report Drug Abuse In Singapore?
For drug concerns, you can contact the Central Narcotics Bureau at 1800-325-6666. You may report other emergencies to the Singapore Police Force (999).
Why Does Singapore Have Strict Laws Against Drugs?
Strict anti-drug laws are imposed in Singapore, as they are harmful and promote antisocial behaviour.