United Nations’ decision to reclassify cannabis for medical purposes driven by “power of money”, asserts Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam — but netizens challenge his view

Commenters questioned why alcohol and tobacco are not banned in Singapore, given their addictive and "harmful" properties

Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam recently branded the United Nations’ decision to reclassify cannabis for medical purposes as a less dangerous drug as one driven by “power of money”.

Mr Shanmugam was quoted as saying at a doorstop interview on 5 December that the idea that cannabis is not harmful is one that is being peddled by profit-driven companies, and that “the evidence that it is harmful is quite substantive”.

He then likened this situation with that of the opioid epidemic in the United States, noting how pharmaceutical firm Purdue Pharma had aggressively promoted the addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin which led to the epidemic.

He explained that many people’s lives are ruined due to opioid abuse while shareholders benefitted from massive profits.

Mr Shanmugam added that while cannabis has medical applications, companies shouldn’t be the ones to decide on its usages.

Instead, the minister suggested, a framework should be created to govern its usage.

The minister went on to highlight studies that show the negative consequences of cannabis abuse, including a greater risk of psychotic disorders as shown in a study published in the science journal Lancet in 2019.

He also highlighted the United States Surgeon-General’s comments on the three negative effects of cannabis, namely an increased risk in psychotic disorder, affected learning in adolescents, and a decline in IQ.

He also said that the UN is unable to prove that cannabis is not harmful.

“The evidence was quite clear. I said it to the United Nations at the UN. I said, look, if there is evidence that it is not harmful, we will change. But so far, what we have done has worked for us. No one has been able to show me,” said Mr Shanmugam.

Other harmful effects of cannabis abuse that the minister highlighted are on a societal level where more resources may be required to deal with the rise in crimes resulting from cannabis abuse.

Citing data from Colorado in the United States, Mr Shanmugam said: “Evidence shows an eight per cent increase in property crimes in Colorado, and I think if my memory serves me right, about 19 per cent increase in other kinds of violent crime, and 151 per cent increase in deaths arising from accidents relating to cannabis. How can it not be concerning?”

However, netizens were not convinced by Mr Shanmugam’s criticism of the UN’s relegation of cannabis into a less dangerous class of drugs.

On the Mothership Facebook page, they argued that there is plenty of evidence to show that alcohol and tobacco are harmful, yet the government has not banned such products as the Government collects taxes on such goods.

A similar comment was made about casinos as well.

One person wondered if Mr Shanmugam was “on the right page”, given that the conversation is about cannabis for medical use, not recreational.

Another said that cannabis could be taxed and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, both of which have been proven to be harmful as well.

The netizen then questioned if Mr Shanmugam’s personal opinion now “triumphs” over science.

Another person noted that Mr Shanmugam’s remarks were made because it would not be good “optics” for the Government to make money from medical marijuana.

One netizen took issue with Mr Shanmugam’s criticism of the UN in this instance, noting that when it comes to COVID-19, the UN and its health body World Health Organisation (WHO)’s guidelines were utilised, but not when it comes to their stance on cannabis.

A similar comment was made by another person who also noted that gambling was considered a vice in the past, yet two casinos are present in Singapore now.

There were commenters who expressed their support of using cannabis for medical purposes with proper regulation.

        

Another netizen listed several points against Mr Shanmugam’s comments, namely that physical and mental health issues have not always been the primary factor in deciding to legalise things such as gambling, alcohol, and tobacco products.

They also posited that it is “ill-informed” to compare cannabis to the opioid crisis in the US, arguing that the effects of cannabis on the human body do not justify the severe punishments faced by marijuana traffickers.

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