Published: 24 February 2023
1. The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2023 [‘MDA Bill’] and the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill 2023 were introduced for First Reading in Parliament today.
2. The Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) provides the legal framework for Singapore authorities to control dangerous and harmful drugs. It criminalises the trafficking, manufacture, importing, exporting, possession, and consumption of illicit drugs; provides for the enforcement powers of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB); and covers the treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers.
3. The proposed amendments to the MDA and the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore will:
(a) Introduce a new legislative framework for psychoactive substances. It will criminalise the trafficking, manufacture, importing, exporting, possession, and consumption of psychoactive substances. It will also allow for the arrest and detention of abusers of psychoactive substances for treatment and rehabilitation; and
(b) Increase the punishment for the possession of large quantities of more dangerous and harmful controlled drugs.
Introduce a new legislative framework for psychoactive substances
4. New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as substances of abuse, either in their pure form or a preparation, which are not controlled by the international drug control conventions, but which may pose a public health threat. These substances mimic the effects of controlled drugs such as cannabis, heroin and cocaine. The UNODC noted that as of April 2022, there were at least 1,150 NPS reported worldwide, which is a significant increase from just 166 in end-2009. Many of these NPS have no legitimate use, and their abuse has been linked to adverse physical and psychological reactions, including paranoia, seizures, hallucinations and even death.
5. Worryingly, drug syndicates are becoming increasingly adept at altering chemical structures of existing NPS, to produce new forms of psychoactive substances which are not controlled under the international drug conventions and governments’ schedules of controlled drugs, to circumvent the law. This has been a challenge for law enforcement agencies around the world.
6. 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 increased to an average of about 235 abusers each year between 2018 to 2022.
7. Currently, NPS are listed as controlled drugs in the First Schedule of the MDA, either individually or grouped by their core molecular structure. In addition, the Fifth Schedule of the MDA allows for the temporary listing of novel forms of NPS for up to 12 months, during which time CNB officers are empowered to seize the substances listed, in order to restrict circulation while scientific analysis and industry consultations are conducted to determine if there is legitimate use. If no legitimate uses are identified, the substances will be listed in the First Schedule of the MDA.
8. As traffickers and abusers now switch very quickly to new forms of psychoactive substances that have yet to be listed as controlled drugs, the authorities are always playing catch-up, due to the lag from the time a new form of psychoactive substance is first detected to the time it is listed in the First Schedule of the MDA. During this period when the psychoactive substance is unlisted, enforcement and prosecutorial action cannot be taken against those who deal in the substance.
9. To strengthen our response to the growing threat of NPS, the MDA Bill will introduce a new legislative framework to control substances based on their capacity to produce a psychoactive effect, rather than on their chemical structure. All such substances will be defined as “psychoactive substances”. The MDA Bill proposes to criminalise the trafficking, manufacture, importing, exporting, possession, and consumption of psychoactive substances. This will allow CNB to take enforcement action against illicit activities involving psychoactive substances that are not yet scheduled as controlled drugs. Similar approaches have been adopted by the United Kingdom and Australia.
10. The new legislative 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 an exclusion schedule. Examples of such excluded substances include alcohol, tobacco and food additives. In addition, the legislation also provides that an accused person can invoke a defence if the psychoactive substance is intended to be used for a legitimate purpose.
11. The punishment framework for offences under this legislative framework will take reference from the punishment framework for Class C controlled drugs.
12. The MDA Bill also proposes enhanced punishments for repeat offenders involving either psychoactive substances or controlled drugs. For example, if an offender has an antecedent for trafficking in a controlled drug, and is now convicted of trafficking in a psychoactive substance, he will be considered a repeat trafficker and will be subject to enhanced punishment for the offence of trafficking.
13. The MDA Bill will provide Director 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. These align with Director CNB’s existing powers with respect to controlled drugs. Accordingly, the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill will amend Article 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore to expressly extend its ambit to the new laws which authorise the arrest and detention of abusers of psychoactive substances for treatment and rehabilitation. Presently, Article 9(6)(b) ensures the constitutional validity of the provisions in the MDA which authorise the arrest and detention of abusers of controlled drugs for treatment and rehabilitation.
Increasing punishment for possession of large quantities of controlled drugs deemed to be more dangerous and harmful
14. CNB has observed in recent years that syndicates are willing to deal in larger quantities of controlled drugs in each transaction. This shift may correlate with abusers purchasing larger quantities of drugs in a single transaction, instead of multiple smaller quantity purchases. A person in possession of large quantities of drugs would have significantly contributed to the local drug demand situation.
15. The current sentencing framework for drug possession does not sufficiently account for the potential harm that could be caused by persons with large amounts of drugs in their possession. A more deterrent punishment is necessary.
16. The MDA Bill thus proposes increased punishments, including caning, for the possession of selected controlled drugs above certain weight thresholds. The drug types for which the punishment for the possession offence will be increased are morphine, diamorphine, opium, cocaine, cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabis mixture and methamphetamine. In our local drug abuse situation, they are the drugs that cause the most serious harms.
 Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, United Kingdom and (ii) Part 9.2 Psychoactive Substances, Criminal Code Act 1995, Australia.
1. Amendments to Misuse of Drugs Act Infographics (PDF, 91.5 KB)