Misuse of Drugs Act in Singapore

Misuse of Drugs Act in Singapore

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1973 (MDA) is a piece of Singaporean legislation governing the use and possession of illegal drugs. Singapore is known for having some of the strictest drug laws in the world, and the Act sets out the various drug-related offences together with their penalties.

For the most serious offences, the MDA provides that an offender may be given the death penalty. It is believed that, by November 2023, at least 16 people in Singapore had been executed that year. Even in less serious cases, for example, where somebody is found carrying a small amount of an illegal substance, the punishment could still result in 10 years imprisonment or a substantial fine.

It is, therefore, important for people to understand Singapore’s drug laws and the consequences of being found guilty of an offence. The legislation is far from straightforward but seeks to tackle the harm that arises from drug-related issues both in and outside of the country.

This article seeks to break down some of the key parts of the legislation and discusses the 5 main drug-related offences.

Definitions

The legislation adopts many different terms used throughout the MDA. Section 2 provides a list of such terms and their definitions, which is important to refer to when interpreting the law. The MDA distinguishes a “controlled drug”, a “specified drug”, and a “substance”.

A controlled drug is defined as any substance or product specified in Parts 1, 2, or 3 of the First Schedule, which provides an extensive list of the drugs deemed to be “controlled drugs”. It includes drugs such as amphetamine, cannabis, and cocaine.

A specified drug means any drug specified in the Fourth Schedule, including some of the controlled drugs listed in the First Schedule. The distinction between controlled and specified drugs is important when it comes to sentencing, as the minimum term of imprisonment will be higher for repeat offenders for specified drugs.

A substance is defined in the Third Schedule of the MDA and is essentially anything that helps to form a controlled drug.

Classes of drugs

The classification of illegal substances is designed to categorise drugs, usually according to the impact they have on the user’s body and mind. It is a common system adopted by many countries worldwide and provides an understanding of the sanctions imposed when an offence has been committed concerning that drug.

In Singapore, there are three categories:

  1. Class A drugs. Examples include cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy, and amphetamine.
  2. Class B drugs. Examples include codeine, nicocodeine, and zipeprol.
  3. Class C drugs. Examples include pipradrol, Xanax, and triazolam.

Offences

There are 5 primary categories of drug-related offences under the MDA.

(1) Trafficking

Trafficking is defined in the MDA as selling, administering, transporting, sending, delivering, or distributing illegal substances in Singapore or offering to do any of those things. Section 5 makes it an offence for a person to:

  1. Traffic in a controlled drug;
  2. Offer to traffic in a controlled drug; or
  3. Do or offer to do any act preparatory to or for the purpose of trafficking in a controlled drug.

If found guilty of this offence, the punishment will depend upon the class of the drug and the amount being trafficked. The sanction ranges from a minimum of 2 years in prison plus 2 strokes of the cane where small amounts of Class C drugs are involved, all the way up to the death penalty for more highly classified or larger quantities of substances.

(2) Manufacture

Section 6 of the MDA provides that it is an offence for any person to manufacture a controlled drug. “Manufacture” is defined in the Act as:

  1. Any process of producing a drug and the refining or transformation of one drug into another; or
  2. Any process of producing a substance and the refining or transformation of one substance into another.

Manufacturing can result in a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison and 5 strokes, up to the maximum sentence of the death penalty, depending upon the type of drug and the quantity.

(3) Possession

Section 8(a) of the MDA states that it is an offence for a person to have in their possession a controlled drug.

If found guilty of this offence, a person can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison or be issued with a S$20,000 fine, or both. If the person being convicted has committed such an offence before, they will be sentenced to at least 2 years in prison.

There is a presumption in the MDA that a person is in possession of a controlled drug if:

  1. They have anything that contains the drug;
  2. They possess the keys to anything that contains the drug or where the drug is discovered, whether it is a container itself or an entire premises;
  3. A document of title for the drugs or any document which is intended for their delivery; or
  4. They own the vehicle in which the drugs are discovered.

When a person is charged with possession, it is their responsibility to challenge this presumption and prove to the court that they are innocent.

(4) Consumption

Section 8(b) of the MDA provides that it is an offence to smoke, administer to oneself, or otherwise consume a controlled drug or a specified drug.

Section 19 raises a presumption that a person has consumed an illegal drug if they are discovered in, or escaping from, an area that is proven or presumed to be used for such consumption. For example, if a location is found to have bongs, syringes, or pipes on site, it will be presumed to have been used for illegal drug consumption.

Section 22 states that a person will be presumed to have consumed a controlled drug if it is found in a sample of their urine. If the accused refuses to provide a sample, they can be sentenced to imprisonment for between 1 to 10 years. Again, the burden is on the accused to convince the court of their innocence.

If found guilty of consumption, the maximum sentence is 10 years in prison or a fine of S$20,000, or both. When considering the appropriate sentence to hand down, the court will look at the following factors:

  1. Whether the accused has offended before;
  2. Whether they have any similar convictions; and
  3. Whether they have previously been admitted to a drug rehabilitation centre.

If the accused is a repeat offender for a controlled drug, the term of imprisonment will be 3 years. However, if the accused is a repeat offender for a specified drug, the sentence will be between 5 to 7 years in prison, together with 3 to 6 strokes of the cane.

It is important to note that the law covers the consumption of drugs by Singaporean citizens outside of Singapore. They will be charged and sentenced in the same way had they committed the offence in Singapore, even if consumption of the drug is legal in the country they took it.

(5) Import and export

Section 7 of the MDA makes it an offence for a person to import into or export from Singapore a controlled drug. Whilst this may seem similar to trafficking, the offence relates solely to moving drugs in and out of the country.

Section 26 provides any officer of the Bureau, police officer, or customs officer with the power to search any person arriving or departing from Singapore. They also have the authority to search any form of transport if they suspect it contains any illicit drugs, as well as any person who is found on that transport.

There may be situations when a person needs to travel in and out of Singapore in possession of a controlled drug, primarily if it is their personal medication. Approval may be required from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) depending on the amount and type of drug. For example, medications containing morphine, fentanyl, or diazepam will need approval regardless of the amount being transported. For codeine or dextromethorphan, approval will only be needed where more than 20 tablets are being transported or where each tablet contains over 30mg of the drug.

If found guilty of this offence, the punishment may be severe depending upon the type of drug and the amount that is imported or exported. Sentences range from a minimum of 3 years in prison and 5 strokes of the cane to the death penalty.

Conclusion

Singapore takes drug-related offences very seriously, which is evident from the stringent rules contained in the MDA regarding presumption and punishment. If charged with an offence under the MDA, the accused must prove their innocence to a high standard to avoid the court’s strict sentencing.

It is, therefore, crucial that residents and people visiting the country are aware of the risks of consuming, possessing, and transporting drugs. If a person is faced with a charge under the MDA, they should seek the advice and assistance of a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

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