Drugs and drug paraphernalia seized in CNB raid at a unit in Chin Swee Road on 5 June 2018 (Source: CNB).

Our draconian laws punish people who are already addicted to drugs. It doesn’t prevent drug use to begin with

Singapore’s stance towards drugs has long since been draconian. Drug traffickers are given the mandatory death sentence and if an offender has in his possession more than a pre-set quantity of narcotics, he will be deemed a trafficker and the balance of proof will shift to him. In other words, instead of the prosecution having to prove that he is a trafficker, he will have to prove that he isn’t one! With the penalty irreversibly severe and no proof that the death penalty actually deters the scourge of drugs, this is still the harsh and possibly unfair stance that Singapore takes.

Drug traffickers (presumed or otherwise) aside, the Singapore law also takes a fearsome approach to drug abusers. Often times, they are not only subject to jail terms but have strokes of the rotan meted out on them too. Again, this is the “take no prisoners” methodology ruthlessly carried out despite there being no concrete proof that caning actually stops drug abuse.

The whole issue about addiction is just that – it is addictive. This would mean that it is no longer a mental desire which one may be able to control with strong family support but a physical need. No matter how many times, you cane an offender, it isn’t going to deter an addict. So why cane them? It isn’t to deter or stop drug abusers. It is simply to punish them. This is a point very aptly made by Dr Munidasa Winslow and goes to the very heart of the objectives of our legal system when it comes to drugs. Often, the harsh sentences are justified on the grounds of deterrence but Doctor Winslow’s erudite observations challenge this view strongly.

Currently, we aren’t preventing drug use. We are simply punishing offenders on the assumptions that they would have the presence of mind to think of punishment in the throes of addiction. Are our punishment methods an indication of our lack of understanding of how addiction works? Is it outdated and ignorant?

People fall prey to drugs for a variety of reasons. There’s family abuse, peer influence, lack of family supervision and guidance just to name a few. Will flaying these backsides after they have already fallen prey going to change anything? Not to mention the records that follow these individuals after their offences and spiral effect on their life. I think we need to think of more effective ways to manage this issue. Perhaps we need a greater understanding of how addiction works in the first place.

We have been punishing drug related offences harshly for years now but yet there is still no evidence of the level of drug use dropping significantly.

There is also evidence to show that drug addicts are afraid to seek help because they are scared that their doctors will report them to the police. Are our harsh laws counterproductive?

Why then are we still doing this?