Honourable Chairman, His Excellency,
Deputy Minister of Public Security Vietnam, Senior Lieutenant-General Le Quy Vuong,
Excellencies of the ASEAN Member States and the ASEAN Secretariat,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam for hosting the 6th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters and its related meetings. Thank you very much for your warm hospitality.
- I am heartened by ASEAN’s unity against drugs.At the recently concluded 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, ASEAN has once again reiterated our zero-tolerance approach towards illicit drugs. We also reaffirmed ASEAN’s goal to promote communities free of drug abuse, as well as ASEAN’s resolute stand against legalisation of controlled drugs at UN platforms.
COLORADO’S EXPERIENCE WITH LEGALISATION OF MARIJUANA
- Recently, I read an opinion editorial by U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer who works in the District of Colorado. In 2012, Colorado allowed full-scale commercialisation of marijuana. Six years on, Colorado is waking up to the reality of the high price it is paying for its decision to allow marijuana commercialisation.
- Troyer cited figures from recent reports from several sources, including the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Denver Health, Energy Associates, Colorado Department of Revenue, and the City of Denver. Let me share the grim picture of reality in Colorado today:
a) More Colorado's youth use marijuana, at a rate that is 85 percent higher than the national average.
b) More marijuana-related traffic fatalities are reported.
c) 70 percent of 400 licensed pot shops surveyed recommend that pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness.
d) Colorado has issued over 40 little-publicised recalls of retail marijuana laced with pesticides and mould.
- There are also reports of sharp spikes in cannabis-related hospital emergency room visits in Colorado. So what happened to the alluring promise made by the legalisation camp?
- Colorado today has a growing black market exploiting their permissive regulatory system. The black market includes Mexican cartel growers who use nerve-agent pesticides that are contaminating Colorado's soil, waters, as well as its wildlife. Marijuana commercialisation has led Colorado to this state. Other states and places are watching Colorado. What we must do is that we must draw the right lessons from Colorado.
- Because Colorado's black market has actually worsened after commercialisation, they have become a drug source-state, a theatre of operation for sophisticated international drug trafficking and transnational money laundering organisations.
- Has the legalisation of drugs promoted success in controlling production of marijuana within Colorado’s borders? The answer is obviously no. Last year alone, the regulated industry produced 6.4 metric tons of unaccounted-for marijuana, and over 80,000 black market plants were found on Colorado's federal lands, according to U.S. Attorney Troyer.
- There are other sweet claims by the pro-legalisation camp. Contrary to the industry’s claim that alcohol use will decrease, the reality is that Colorado’s alcohol consumption has steadily climbed since marijuana commercialisation. Contrary to the industry’s claim that marijuana will cure opioid addiction, a Lancet study found that heavy marijuana users end up with more pain and are more likely to abuse opioids. This growing body of evidence clearly tells us that the legalisation of drugs does not work! In fact, it has made things worse.
THE WORSENING REGIONAL DRUG SITUATION
- Strengthening ASEAN collaboration is especially important as the global and regional drug situation remains serious and challenging.
- Southeast Asia has now become one of the world’s largest methamphetamine markets. There are also clear signs that the scale of methamphetamine production has increased significantly, as observed from the multiple record seizures reported from member states in the region. However, despite the frequent seizures of methamphetamine, drug prices for methamphetamine have not increased - this indicates that more methamphetamine is being produced.
- We also face the challenge of new psychoactive substances or NPS. A wider range of NPS has been seized in Southeast Asia in recent years. Right now, there are at least 800 different NPS available in the global market. New varieties are constantly being created to circumvent laws. This rapid development of NPS variants makes it difficult for us to include these substances as controlled drugs and update our testing methods and laws to restrict their circulation. Another common challenge faced by law enforcement agencies is internet-enabled drug trafficking. Due to the anonymous nature of the Internet, traffickers are able to mask their identity more effectively by trafficking drugs through the web, courier companies, and the postal system. Law enforcement agencies also face the problem of identifying and collating evidence against suspects who had ordered drugs online.
- Even as we contend with these challenges, we also have to deal with the shift in perception of the drug problem. Some parts of the world have seemingly accepted drug abuse as a norm of their society. More troubling is their determination to convince the rest of us to join them in adopting more liberal drug policies, such as legalising cannabis and decriminalising drug abuse.
- This cavalier approach goes directly against ASEAN’s commitment towards achieving a drug-free society for our community. In working towards realising our aspiration for a drug-free ASEAN, we not only have to work hard to tackle both drug supply and demand, we also have to ensure that at key international platforms such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, our voices are heard and our approaches on drug control are protected.
SINGAPORE’S DRUG SITUATION
- As a highly connected city in the heart of South-East Asia, Singapore is not immune to all these regional and emerging drug threats. In 2017, methamphetamine abusers in Singapore made up about 64% of drug abusers. New abusers remain high at 40% of the total abusers arrested in 2017. Youth abusers form 40% of total abusers arrested and 64% of all new abusers arrested.Many of these new drug abusers are young and educated - tragically, instead of fulfilling their rich promising potential, they and their families could face a lifetime of misery.
- Singapore firmly believes that every person has the right to live, work and play in a safe environment free from the scourge of drugs. We adopt a comprehensive harm prevention strategy, which seeks to proactively address the drug problem through upstream prevention drug education; robust enforcement; and evidence-based rehabilitation.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PREVENTIVE DRUG EDUCATION
- Our first line of defence is preventive drug education. In light of global influences and the high proportion of youth abusers, Singapore’s Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy places emphasis on Preventive Drug Education (PDE) in schools. This helps to develop a strong preventive drug foundation in our youth population and harness active citizenry supporting and advocating a drug-free culture in our communities. Singapore has also built an ASEAN Preventive Drug Education portal, which is an online platform for ASEAN Member States to share ideas, online resources and best practices in PDE content and delivery. I would like to take this opportunity to invite all member states to actively contribute resources to expand the contents and resources on the portal, and to share information within the portal with your PDE practitioners.
- We have also significantly expanded our media outreach, especially on social media, to reach out to youths under the age of 30.We have moved away from direct messaging such as “Say No to Drugs”, to incorporate more evidence-based narratives and storytelling elements in our outreach to youths. The aim is to let the youths come to the conclusion themselves that drugs have negative consequences, and to make their own decision to steer clear from drugs.
ENFORCEMENT AND REHABILITATION
- The second pillar of Singapore’s harm prevention strategy comprises tough laws and robust enforcement to keep our streets free from drugs and protect our society from the harms of drugs. Last year, we held over 1,600 enforcement operations at our land, air and sea checkpoints. Major operations led by our Central Narcotics Bureau crippled 23 drug syndicates. Since 2017, we have also collaborated closely with postal companies and courier agencies to enhance our suspicious parcel detection capabilities.
- The third pillar of our harm prevention strategy is a comprehensive and evidence-based rehabilitation. Beyond strong prevention and enforcement, rehabilitation is also a critical component of building a drug-free society. Ultimately, we want to save lives. When abusers come into our system, we must help them break out of the cycle of addiction and successfully reintegrate into society. We invest heavily in programmes that are designed based on scientific evidence to help abusers give up their drug habits and reintegrate into society. Depending on their risk profile and needs, abusers are supported by different interventions to prepare them for a drug-free life. During reintegration into the community, aftercare interventions seek to provide them with adequate support upon release to prevent them from relapse.
- A whole-of-nation approach is important. That is why the Singapore Government works together with civil society organisations such as the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, which runs counselling programmes for recovering addicts to help them live free of drugs.
STANDING UNITED IN KEEPING OUR ASEAN COMMUNITIES DRUG-FREE
- Singapore recognises that we must stand united in keeping our ASEAN Communities drug-free. We have thus been contributing actively to the Golden Triangle Cooperation Plan initiated by Thailand. Apart from sharing experiences on drug interdiction and operational analysis, and sponsorship of courses, Singapore is also working with Thailand to donate suitable patrol boats to bolster the patrolling capabilities of enforcement officers who patrol the Mekong River.
- To combat the growing challenges posed by NPS, Singapore collaborated with the UNODC to conduct a joint training on NPS for ASEAN and Pacific Island countries in September 2017. The course allowed participants to gain a better understanding of the recent trends in the global and regional markets for NPS, and identify best practices in detection and investigation.
- To balance the liberal approaches by other regional blocs, the ASEAN family has delivered joint ASEAN statements at the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) and 59th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in 2016. These were a strong show of ASEAN’s solidarity in preserving our drug-free vision, as well as our collective belief that each country has the sovereign right to implement policies and strategies that are most suited to its domestic situation. I am heartened that ASEAN Unity will be demonstrated once again as we work towards delivering two other joint ASEAN Statements at CND sessions in November this year, and at the 62nd Session of the CND High-Level Segment next year.
- With the mounting challenges in the global and regional drug situation, international cooperation is more vital than ever. We must continue to uphold the international drug control conventions, which are based on a common understanding of the world drug problem. As a region, we must continue to push forward as a united ASEAN, to safeguard our flexibility to pursue the Drug-Free ASEAN we aspire towards.
- We have seen what happened in Colorado. We cannot afford for that to happen to our countries and to our families - it is our future and our families’ future that we are talking about here. Our efforts today create the societies of tomorrow. We must ensure our children do not grow up in an environment which takes drugs lightly. We must help them make the right choices in the face of all the pressures they will face. Most of all, we must help create a safe and secure future where they are empowered to live their lives to the fullest.
- I urge all delegates to stay united and committed to the fight against drugs, as we forge ahead together for a better ASEAN.
- Thank you.
 Full name of the Cooperation Plan is “ASEAN Cooperation Plan to Tackle Illicit Drug Production and Trafficking in the Golden Triangle 2017-2019”