Published: 24 May 2019
Director CNB, Mr Ng Ser Song,
Home Team colleagues,
1. First let me start by thanking all CNB officers for the hard work, dedication, professionalism you have shown, which has helped us, our people, Singaporeans, residents in Singapore, recognise the value of staying in a drug-free place.
SINGAPORE – STRONG PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR TOUGH STANCE ON DRUGS
2. MHA’s latest public perception survey showed extremely strong public support for our drug policies – over 97 per cent. This sticks out as an exception in the context of what is happening in the rest of the world, and I will come to that in a minute.
3. Almost nine in 10 agree that our drug laws are effective. And overall, very strong support for punishments imposed on drug traffickers, including imprisonment - 93 per cent supported; caning - 80 per cent supported; and death penalty - 70 per cent supported. Part of it is because we have demonstrated the values of living in a drug-free society or a relatively drug-free society. Part of it is because of the trust Singaporeans have in our law enforcement agencies and CNB. And that the tough laws and non-corrupt enforcement of them, and our fair and independent judicial system, will together protect the innocent and at the same time put behind bars those who are guilty.
4. At the same time, there are some question marks, warning signs in the surveys. They show that while overall support is strong, there is a difference in support depending on age groups. The younger people, in particular, are slightly less supportive than older people in two areas. One, they think cannabis is not as harmful as sometimes it is said to be, in their perception; and second there is less support from them on the death penalty.
5. I’ve asked CNB to focus on this aspect – to reach out, communicate with our young people, and explain to them our position. Why we take the position we do, and the consequences if we are not firm.
6. And this is within our control. We are not at the current public perceptions that we have by doing nothing. This didn’t happen by itself. It is because of the continuous education that we have undertaken, the enforcement, and the regular, repeated statements we make have sunk in. So we have to do that with the next generation.
7. We will have to make sure the next generation supports the policies and the punishments, and that has to be a core CNB and MHA effort. Because if the next generation doesn’t support the same level of enforcement and laws, then the laws lose their moral value. Once the laws lose that moral force, it is only a question of time before they get changed. And so, when we see some signs, we need to deal with them.
8. So CNB will focus on this, and brief me on what they plan to do on explaining to our young people on the risks of drugs, including cannabis. They already do a lot of it but I think they have to step it up – what we can more of and how – and the need for the punishments that we impose.
9. This is important, because there are very strong coordinated efforts internationally, as well as within Singapore, to change the Government’s position on drugs, and to change public perception on drugs.
10. And these efforts, unfortunately, are not based on science. If it’s based on science, we will be very willing to listen, because we are not ideological about these things. Unfortunately, these are based on ideology.
11. Our position is based on practical realities, common sense and evidence. So this is the clash that is coming. For example, I have said many times – the Government’s position, my position – that the death penalty is not a punishment that we want to keep on the books, or impose for ideological reasons.
12. It is imposed because, we believe, based on evidence, that it serves as a serious deterrence, and – this is the key point – it actually saves more lives: from crime, from homicide, from destroyed families.
13. If you go and look at the countries with freer drug laws, you will see the number of deaths that arise from the criminality that comes from drugs - the shootings and killings. Not just from the smuggling of drugs but also the follow-on consequences of people who take drugs; the number of destroyed lives. The number of actual lives lost is far, far greater.
14. Every trafficker is a dealer in death. People forget that. You’re not looking at one life; you’re looking at one life, and how many other lives he is going to affect, including how many other people he is going to kill.
15. There is a case which is in today’s papers, relating to one Pannir Selvam. It was heard at the Court of Appeal yesterday. He is a Malaysian. He had been sentenced to death, for trafficking. He was convicted of trafficking 51.84 grams of pure heroin. You bring in 51, 52 grams of pure heroin, it is equal to over 4,000 straws of heroin, and feeds hundreds for a week. A person like that is a dealer in death, no two ways about it.
16. He was convicted, he was represented by counsel right through, he appealed, and it was dismissed last year. He was accorded full due process, at every stage. Yesterday his lawyers filed a new motion, the Court has given a stay of the execution and it will be heard. I do not want to go into the specific details of the case further at this point because it is before the Courts.
17. What I will do – is make some general observations, about cases we are seeing, traffickers coming in from Malaysia, and requests from the Malaysian government.
18. My Malaysian counterpart, Minister Liew has taken up his case. He spoke with my Senior Minister of State, Edwin Tong, and he wrote to us. He spoke with Edwin because I was not in Singapore. We will respond in detail to Minister Liew, once the case is over.
19. The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government – some Ministers in particular – are ideologically opposed to the death penalty, and we have to respect that position. At the same time, we do impose the death penalty in Singapore, and I expect that Malaysia will respect that position as well. Our population is strongly supportive of our position, because they know what drugs and traffickers will do to our society.
20. Since the PH government came into power about a year ago, we have had three requests to stop the execution of Malaysians. Two of them were drug traffickers. Let me be quite clear - it is not possible for us to do so, regardless of how many requests we receive. When there are no legal reasons for us to intervene, when the Courts have imposed the sentence, we will not intervene as the Government. It is not tenable to give a special moratorium to Malaysians, and impose it on everyone else, including Singaporeans who commit offences which carry the death penalty.
21. As I said earlier – the death penalty is imposed because the evidence we have shows that it is an effective deterrent. Not for any other reason. And we are not going to be deflected from doing the right thing for Singapore.
22. Let me give you some stats. Last year, 2018, nearly 30 per cent of the total traffickers caught were Malaysians. Nearly 30 per cent of the heroin found (in capital cases), by weight – was brought in by Malaysians. One in five of the heroin traffickers who brought in amounts that attracted the death penalty, above the threshold – were Malaysians.
23. How do we go easy on Malaysians in the face of these stats? And what will it mean for the rule of law? It will become a joke if there is a request made and we go easy. That is not the way Singapore works.
24. The way to deal with this, I will tell my Malaysian friends, is to get to the root of the problem. I am going to suggest to Minister Liew the following, when I do write to him. We pick up so many Malaysians at the borders. It will be good if they can share with us how many they pick up. I assume their border control is as good, they have strict laws on drugs. I assume they have as much of a will and intention to enforce them as we do. And therefore, I will ask for statistics on how many people they pick up.
25. If they can make sure they arrest the traffickers, before they come into Singapore that helps them and it helps us. The traffickers do not have to face the death penalty – they can keep them in Malaysia.
26. Second, I am going to ask him – it will really help if the drug kingpins who operate in Malaysia, and who are too scared to come into Singapore – it will help if they get picked up. We have good cooperation with Malaysian agencies, they do a good job, we cooperate effectively. And I hope they can be given every support, and we can get more evidence on the other kingpins operating in Malaysia to be picked up.
27. Third, it will be helpful, if the penalties in Singapore, which we impose on drug traffickers, are widely publicised amongst the potential drug trafficking group. They happen to be predominantly poor, less well-educated and Indian. They come in for a few hundred ringgit. The trafficking situation could be dealt with and improved, for the benefit of both countries, if these people can be spoken with; their situation dealt with; social, as well as other situations looked into, and be told “don’t traffick into Singapore. And if you do, these are the consequences.”
28. I think that would be a practical way of trying to deal with these issues, and I hope to be able to talk to my counterparts to see how much of this can be done. And I think then, we will be backing up our statements with concrete actions. If we worry about lives - both Governments - and we do, then I would suggest that these are concrete, practical steps that can be taken.
29. It is simply not doable to keep asking Singapore not to carry out the penalties imposed by the Courts. We have a serious problem in our region. East and Southeast Asia is the largest market for meth. Production and trafficking hit an all-time high in 2018. It is the second-largest market for opium and heroin, and is a growing market for New Psychoactive Substances or “NPS”. The developments have a great potential impact on us.
30. We really cannot allow Singapore to become a place where traffickers can come in at will, use us as a transit point, flood our country with drugs, and then when caught, they say “we do not know.” I asked, this morning, for a list of excuses that are given. “We didn’t know what was in there” – that was a favourite excuse; “I took this car for a drive into Singapore”, “I was told to drive in” - we get all these excuses. Let the Courts listen to them, let them decide, and our legal framework provides for certain presumptions, and the defendants will have to rebut those presumptions.
CANNABIS – NOW A MAINSTREAM CAUSE IN THE US
31. The second challenge we face - a number of countries are calling for alternative drug policies: legalisation, decriminalisation; and to treat this issue as a health problem.
32. Within Singapore, ideologically tuned individuals (a small group) try in particular to change the minds of our younger people on the death penalty and drugs. We then have to make our people aware of the context in which other countries have made their policies, because on the face of it, people don’t understand the reasons. They say: “A, B, C have all decriminalised, they all have legalised. They are all first world countries. Why are we not doing that?”
33. Let us look at the evidence. Unfortunately, in today’s world, perception matters far more than actual reality. And people don’t look at the evidence. It is what the media wants to put out and the media on this aspect, is very much to the left internationally.
34. Take cannabis. Some of you may have heard of the term “reefer madness”. This came from an American film in 1930s. Some innocent students, they were lured by drug pushers, they tried cannabis, and the ensuing events – hallucinations, suicide, madness. That was the film.
35. Today, that film is seen as propaganda spreading misconceptions about cannabis because cannabis is not harmful, is it? So in the US, if you are someone – public sector officials, law enforcement agencies, drug enforcement agencies, researchers, scientists, NGOs dealing with this – if you say you have misgivings about cannabis legalisation, you would be characterised as being alarmist, melodramatic, backward, even though these are the very people - the enforcement agencies, the NGOs - which are the ones picking up the pieces and dealing with the consequences of the problems.
36. Plenty of research. The latest Lancet Psychiatry Journal (March 2019) - the use of high-potency cannabis every day is linked to greater psychosis. They found the evidence in Europe. Significant because it shows the link between cannabis use and psychosis, schizophrenia, at the general population level, not just some small target groups. That is worrying because high-potency cannabis now dominates the US and European markets. The average potency of cannabis (THC concentration) jumped from under nine per cent in 2008 to about double (17.1 per cent) in 2017 – within nine years. 
37. These findings are backed by rigorous science but they don’t make an impact on public perception, particularly in the US, because there, legalisation has become mainstream. This is pushed by the Washington Post, the New York Times, all the media. 66 per cent of Americans support legalisation as of 2018, compared with 31% in 2000. So it just doubled within 18 years. With the Internet and speed of communications, that cycle is going to get shorter and shorter, which is why I started off my speech by saying that CNB has to make sure that the younger generation are as supportive as the older generation. Otherwise, we keep enforcing but you will find that public support is dwindling away.
38. Among 18 to 34-year-old Americans, there is nearly 80% support for legalisation. How did things get to this stage?
39. First, which is extremely important, big money comes from pharma companies. It is a big motivator in promoting recreational, medical cannabis. In the US last year, in one year, investors poured US$10 billion into the legal cannabis industry, and we haven’t seen anything yet.
40. In the US and Canada, the legalisation of cannabis has meant that Big Pharma, tobacco companies, alcohol companies are all chasing what they consider to be the new gold rush. They are going to get big profits. Constellation Brands (parent of Corona Beer) invested US$4 billion in a Canadian company called Canopy Growth – acannabis producer. Altria, which is a cigarette brand which owns Marlboro amongst others, bought a 45 per cent stake in Cronos Group which is based in Canada – a cannabis business group – and they paid US$1.4 billion for that.
Cannabis Money Impacts Public Policy
41. Money that has been poured is also finding its way to lawmakers. Unlike Singapore, over in the US, you can lobby, you can pay money to the legislators. The cannabis industry and those who stand to benefit from its legalisation contributed US$2.5 million to lobby revenues in 2018. In Washington, the National Cannabis Industry Association organised a three-day lobbying tour for over 200 cannabis industry leaders to meet, greet and lobby congressmen.
42. This has meant that politicians become beholden to industry, and they are influenced by the companies that fund them. Cannabis is now framed as “green gold” and that the US ought to cash in because Canada has legalised and the investment is going to go into Canada. People in the US are making the argument: “Why are you letting Canada benefit from it, why not legalise it in the US?” A company called Viridian Capital Advisors - Scott Greiper (founder) said: “It’s kind of a damn shame that so much capital has escaped the US to go up to Canada.” 
43. A billionaire by the name of Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Tilray, which is a Canadian-based cannabis company, essentially US-run but based in Canada because of the rules, said: “The US Government will basically be ensuring that companies that dominate this industry in the next decade are all based outside of the US.” It has become an economic argument. That company has just made a big deal with Novartis – it is one of the bluest of blue-chip pharmaceutical companies – for distribution of cannabis oils and pills.
44. Individual states in the US have legalised cultivation and the sale of cannabis. You take Nevada - one of the state senators is a prominent advocate for the legalisation of cannabis. He also sits on the board of cannabis-related companies. And his argument is that it is a great thing because previously we used to spend money on enforcement, now we don’t have to spend money on enforcement and at the same time, we can collect taxes. Silly – because other research shows that by the time you see the consequences of legalisation and people have taken cannabis or other drugs legally, the consequent healthcare and enforcement costs are more than a factor of four. So it is a foolish way of saving money because you spend far more.
Media Framing Has Shaped Public Perception
45. So one reason for the change in perception is big money and advertisements. The second reason is actually media – framing and shaping public perception.
46. The consistent message in the media is that cannabis is benign and that it is actually beneficial. A US study that was published in the Social Science Research Journal investigates why attitudes about cannabis legalisation have changed so dramatically. They looked at the New York Times as a case study and found that after a sharp increase in the proportion of articles discussing the medical use of cannabis, the number of Americans supporting legalisation began to increase. This is a canard because there are certain medical uses for certain chemical components of cannabis and that should be prescribed in a hospital environment. But it is a big jump from saying that taking or ingesting raw cannabis is going to help you. It is not going to help you if it is not being prescribed by a doctor to a specified patient for a specified illness. And I quote the researchers: “The stereotypical persona of the marijuana user shifted from the stoned slacker wanting to get high, to the aging boomer seeking pain relief”.
47. The Washington Post’s own separate study found that they had run almost 200 articles in the last five years connecting cannabis to the treatment of conditions like opioid abuse, epilepsy and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
48. The media and advertisers have taken many liberties in pushing products as healthy and safe. Raw cannabis is regularly portrayed as “medical cannabis”. That is supposed to be able to cure a variety of medical conditions when there is no science of research to support any of this. 
49. There are many examples of harmful marketing in places where you would expect better frameworks. In New Zealand, you have a “medical cannabis” company called Helius Therapeutics. They created controversy by advertising cannabis as medicine on billboards.  Medmen is a cannabis business in California, US, and it markets cannabis as, I quote, “legal healing”.
50. But these are all canards. All untrue. Unfortunately, the way the world - political systems and governance - is going, there is no single central authority in these countries to be able to deal with these issues as they arise.
51. Thankfully, we are in a slightly different situation. But you know the situation with the rest of the world is changing and we cannot underestimate the impact of social media and mass media overseas in spreading misinformation that normalises drug use.
Legalising Cannabis Comes with High Social Costs
52. The experience of the US on the costs of legalising is set out by the International Narcotics Control Board and I quote, “Cannabis sold in dispensaries may be illicitly produced and sold.” Obviously, because it is more profitable. And there is “substantial diversion of cannabis products intended for medical use which are then shifted to non-medical use”, and “often little or no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of many of the purported medical uses of cannabis”. And there is “very little medical supervision of these so-called “medical” uses of cannabis”.
53. So researchers have done a lot of research. They have examined the relationship between drugs and crime and they found that drug legalisation correlates with the worsening of crime and the social situation. That was in Colorado and some other US states. 
54. In Colorado, one of the university think-tanks did a study and showed that traffic deaths also increased once you legalised cannabis.  Almost 70 per cent of users said that they have driven at least once under the influence of cannabis, and 27 per cent admit to doing so every day. Hospitalisations have increased. In 2011, less than 20,000 persons admitted but in 2015, more than 30,000. Youth abusers between 18 to 25 years old have also increased after the retail sales of cannabis began.
55. For every dollar gained in tax revenue, $4.50 was spent mitigating the downstream effects. This doesn’t even include deaths, traffic accidents, crime. You add all that up, it is much more.
56. Research also found that crime rates in Colorado went up faster than other US states since legalisation. An eight per cent increase in property crimes, especially where or near where the cannabis dispensaries are. A 19 per cent increase in violent crimes including homicides. Which somewhat relates to an earlier point I made. We believe that being tough on drugs, imposing a deterrent penalty, actually saves more lives.
57. In Quebec, Canada – there have been at least three times more cannabis poisoning cases since it was legalised last year.
58. So the statistics are clear, but they are ignored by the big companies, the lobbyists and the politicians. It is imperative that we get the message across to our people. We have to operate on evidence. We have to operate on what the research shows elsewhere. And not be confused by broad simplistic claims.
PUBLIC SUPPORTS TOUGH STANCE ON DRUGS, BUT MISINFORMATION ON CANNABIS ALSO IMPACTS US
59. But if you look at it, this propaganda that surrounds the medical and recreational cannabis has influenced our own public. I earlier referred to the public perception survey that MHA did. The support for cannabis use to remain illegal in Singapore remained relatively high – 87 per cent. But that is ten per cent lower than the support for general drug-taking to remain illegal. If you ask about drugs, 97 per cent say that it should remain illegal. But when it comes to cannabis, 87 per cent. So it is a ten per cent drop.
60. Young people – 80 per cent support cannabis use to remain illegal. But young people who frequently obtain drug-related information from overseas mass media, that figure comes down to 57 per cent. And that is today. If we don’t deal with it, it will change very quickly.
Our Commitment to a Drug-Free Singapore against the Backdrop of Challenges
61. So we have to combine preventive drug education, tough laws and effective enforcement and strategic international engagement. All of which we have been doing, but the actual tactics would have to be refined as we get more and more of these evidence.
62. I will speak on three of CNB’s priorities. First, prevention is better than cure. It is our first line of defence to educate Singaporeans. CNB has done considerable work. Very good quality work, ramping up on social media over the last couple of years. The content outreach is being developed through Augmented Reality and creative lift wraps. We should continue exploring these approaches – we have really got to capture the mindshare of our public.
63. CNB’s partners play an important role in our anti-drug cause. There are 60 corporate members, we call it the United Against Drugs Coalition (UADC). Many of them help us in spreading the anti-drug message. For example, NTUC Club co-organised a walkabout in Downtown East, and pushed and shared anti-drug messages.
64. We have received very strong pro-social support from the community. We have the Dadah Itu Haram (DIH) campaign. More than 300 volunteers and businesses from the Malay-Muslim community have come forward. I have attended their events.
65. SPS Amrin has been very active in reaching out and this happens together with CNB officers. There was a recent DIH rock concert held in March, in Kampung Admiralty. The artists were able to get the message across, and shared the messages between their performances. There was a good crowd, 4,000 people, and the target audience were all young people.
66. So we really thank CNB’s partners in this because you are doing a very important work helping the community.
Boosting Enforcement Efforts Through Legislation and Technology
67. The second effort is of course enforcement through both legislation – giving ourselves the legislative power to enforce, and effective tactical enforcement through technology.
68. So as with the other Home Team agencies, CNB is focusing on technology to free up our officers’ time for higher value work. One example is the next-generation Integrated Drug Enforcement Administrative System, or IDEAS II. Phase 1 will launch next month. The investigation papers and casefiles will all be handled electronically; hard copy files will be dispensed with. Phase 2 will launch a few months later in September, where there will be new apps. Information recorded on scene will automatically be uploaded onto the system. Analytics will help to trawl through statements, charting the relationships between syndicate members, making them easier to trace.
69. At last year’s Workplan Seminar, CNB showed its Next Generation Reporting Centre Proof-of-Concept machines. Trials to automate the urine procurement process are ongoing. Feedback from officers has been positive - they are excited and looking forward to the full implementation.
70. CNB has also started on what it calls the Automated Exhibits Management System (AEMS) project. Today, officers spend a significant amount of time processing exhibits relating to each case manually. So this new system will use robotics to help officers - it will do the weighing, photo-taking, labelling, packing and sealing of exhibits. The trial commenced this month.
71. So with these, routine tasks can be done by robotics and officers get freed up.
72. Third, I mentioned international engagement. We have to continue to rally like-minded countries, particularly in light of the debates going around in the world. You saw a clip of Second Minister Josephine Teo speaking. Singapore has contributed extensively and plays a very active role in the CND, the 62nd CND in particular, which was led by Minister Josephine Teo.
73. We ensured that the CND dealt with the Ministerial Declaration and addressed the drug problem in a balanced manner. That it recognised that the drug addiction is a serious problem and that you need to tackle it from both the demand and supply side. That law enforcement is essential to control drugs and the need for a balanced, multi-faceted approach to the problems that countries around the world face.
74. Several countries pushed for policies that try to frame the problem solely as a health and human rights issue at the CND. Which is something that we have never understood. Human rights is “my individual freedom to consume drugs” – that is how it was put forward. What about the impact on society? If you take that argument, then you would have the human right to do almost anything you like. But there must be things that are bringing harm to society that society must be able to say no to. They don’t consider the social consequences of drug abuse, the rights of others to live in a drug-free society. It is no secret that 80 per cent of those in prison, eight out of ten, are either in there for drugs or have a drug antecedent and then gone on to do some other thing. The evidence is not very different in other countries.
75. So the fight against drugs, both within and internationally, will continue to be challenging. CNB needs to continue to work with its partners, to get as many hands into the fight as possible; continue with technological innovation; make sure our laws are continuously reviewed and deepen the engagement with the global community.
76. But in the face of all these challenges - Southeast Asia, East Asia, the Golden Triangle, the change in approach in Malaysia, and even changes within Singapore - CNB has been doing an exceptionally good job.
77. Now I never say we are drug-free. We are relatively drug-free. The cost of buying drugs is still high and the cost of being caught is very high. All of these keeps the society relatively free of drugs, healthier, with less crime and less homicides. A safer society for everyone.
78. So for that, we thank CNB. Thank you very much.
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