Published: 01 June 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Good afternoon.
2. It gives me great pleasure to be part of CNB’s Workplan Seminar 2021.
3. 2020 was a challenging year for Singapore. Despite facing disruptions to your daily operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CNB did not waver in striving towards the vision of a drug-free Singapore.
Sustaining the Fight Against Drugs During the COVID-19 pandemic
4. Border closures and travel restrictions did not stop drug trafficking syndicates. They continued to explore novel methods to import drugs into Singapore, such as using drones, or hiding drugs in commercial goods such as furniture and even fruits.
5. Despite the pandemic, CNB, working with the Police and ICA, has kept up a high operational tempo. In 2020, CNB made significant drug seizures amounting to an estimated market value of around 11.6 million dollars and conducted major operations that dismantled 24 drug syndicates.
6. Restrictions in organising face-to-face interactions did not stop CNB’s Preventive Drug Education efforts. In particular, CNB held the first-ever DrugFreeSG Virtual Concert in February this year. I truly enjoyed myself during the concert. I was told that the event garnered over 165,000 views and received good feedback. Well done to the team!
7. CNB also sustained its engagement with foreign counterparts, to continue safeguarding Singapore’s drug-free approach. In March last year, CNB worked with international partners at the 63rd Commission on Narcotic Drugs, or CND, and organised a side event titled ‘Youths-at-Risk: Targeted Interventions for Youths Who Abuse Drugs’. In December, CNB rallied ASEAN member states to remain committed to the ASEAN drug-free vision at the 41st Meeting of ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters.
Taking Part in the National COVID-19 Response
8. CNB officers also answered the nation’s call and contributed to the national COVID-19 response, on top of your day-to-day duties to keep Singapore safe from drugs. Close to 100 CNB officers were involved, taking on duties such as contact tracing, conducting checks on persons subjected to Stay-Home Notices, and managing dormitory operations. These efforts were crucial to curb the further spread of the virus, protecting the safety of our people while risking your own.
9. I thank CNB colleagues for your continued dedication and professionalism in safeguarding a drug-free society, and in responding effectively to national efforts when called upon, as one Home Team, as one Public Service.
Key Challenges Confronting CNB
10. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only challenge that CNB faces. There are other threats, due to the rapidly evolving drug landscape. I will focus on three key threats.
Cannabis legalisation driven by commercial interests
11. First, the international trend towards being more permissive for cannabis recreational use.
12. Internationally, Canada and Uruguay have legalised cannabis for recreational use. In the US, while cannabis is still controlled at the federal level, some states have also legalised cannabis for recreational use. Nearer to home, Thailand has legalised cannabis for so-called medical use, and even allowed the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants per household.
13. The harms of cannabis are clear. The adverse effects associated with long-term cannabis use, particularly increased risks of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and psychotic illness, are well-known.
14. On the other hand, there is no evidence at all that raw cannabis is effective in treating any medical condition.
15. Despite these, there is a very strong pro-cannabis lobby, driven by commercial interests. It was reported that in the US, more than 3.5 million US dollars were spent to lobby the federal Government for the cannabis industry’s interests in the first half of 2020, including the removal of cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances. Many of the big spenders are cannabis companies, who will obviously benefit from these changes in law.
16. It is also worrying that international organisations are supporting narratives that seem to point towards cannabis liberalisation. For instance, the World Health Organisation’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, WHO ECDD, tabled six recommendations to the CND to lower controls over cannabis and cannabis-related substances.
17. These developments are not desirable, and could lead to a normalisation of cannabis abuse. This will propagate more liberal attitudes towards drugs and gradually undermine Singapore’s zero-tolerance stance against drugs.
Negative influences shaping more liberal attitudes towards drugs, especially among youths
18. That brings me to the second challenge, more liberal attitudes towards drugs, especially among youths.
19. In 2020, those below 30 continued to form the largest group of abusers arrested in Singapore. Further, three in every five new drug abusers arrested were below 30.
20. Results from public surveys show that the majority of youths are aware of the harms of drugs and support a tough stance against drugs. However, there are indications that more youths are adopting more liberal views.
21. In a survey conducted in 2019 by the National Council Against Drug Abuse, youths’ support for Singapore’s zero-tolerance stance towards drugs was 79%, compared to 84% for those above the age of 30.
22. Youths are more exposed through the internet and social media platforms, to liberal drug views and policies, such as harm reduction strategies, decriminalisation of drug abuse, and the legalisation of cannabis.
23. In addition, the portrayal of drugs and drug abuse in the media and pop culture has contributed to the normalisation and even glamourisation of drug abuse, which perpetuate misperceptions that drugs are not as harmful as they actually are.
24. This is why we work very closely with various stakeholders, including the arts and entertainment industry, to adopt a comprehensive approach to guard our youths against the harms of drugs. CNB may also issue drug advisories and work with the Infocomm Media Development Authority on appropriate licensing conditions for the performance. In some cases, CNB may recommend to disallow a drug advocate from performing in Singapore to avoid granting him a platform to engage and influence an audience here.
25. We must continue in our efforts to educate the public on the harms of drugs, especially our youths.
New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – A fast evolving global threat
26. Third, the threat of New Psychoactive Substances, or NPS.
27. NPS are proliferating at an unprecedented rate, posing a significant risk to public health. NPS abuse has been linked to adverse physical and psychological reactions, and even death.
28. It is not difficult for drug syndicates to alter chemical structures of existing NPS to avoid detection, and this is a continuous challenge for law enforcement agencies around the world. In 2009, 166 NPS were detected worldwide. The number has since increased to over 1,000 in December 2020.
29. Locally, NPS has become the third most commonly abused drug since 2018, overtaking cannabis. These trends indicate that NPS is an increasing threat, not only overseas but also in Singapore, and we have to do more to address this threat.
Our Commitment to a Drug-Free Singapore against the Backdrop of Challenges
30. CNB will need to focus on three things in the year ahead.
Intensified and Improved Preventive Drug Education (PDE) Strategies
31. First, intensify public education efforts.
32. In a public perception survey on the Home Team’s community programmes and services conducted in 2019, more than eight out of ten respondents rated CNB’s programmes as effective in educating the public on the dangers of drug abuse. We are starting from a good base, but we must do more. In particular, CNB will intensify efforts to engage the youths.
33. CNB will continue exploring co-creation opportunities with like-minded youths and IHLs to generate more appealing, targeted and relevant content that would resonate better with youths. These include working with youths to spread the anti-drug message through different creative mediums and collaborating with student groups to produce educational resources for youths.
Committed to Keeping our Laws Relevant, Strengthening Enforcement and Supervision
34. The second area of focus is to ensure that our laws, enforcement, and supervision continue to be effective. We will be amending the Misuse of Drugs Act soon. The amendments aim to strengthen legislative levers, including the introduction of a new approach to control NPS. These amendments will provide CNB officers with the necessary powers so that you can do your job more effectively.
35. Having good laws is only one side of the coin. We must make sure enforcement is effective. In that regard, CNB will need to leverage technology to enhance the effectiveness of its officers and operational outcomes. I am heartened to see good progress in this area.
36. I am happy to note that CNB will make use of more analytical tools for swifter and more effective responses, enhanced sense-making, and to strengthen investigation protocols and improve investigation efficiency. For instance, the portable Mobile Diary will be deployed to ground officers, to improve the on-scene documentation of case and exhibit details, which can be shared with and accessed by relevant parties easily for follow up.
37. We also need to strengthen our drug supervision regime to help drug abusers stay away from drugs. CNB has piloted the Community Supervision Skills sessions. These sessions aim to better address supervisees’ reintegration needs, such as financial, accommodation and employment needs. This is done through structured interviews at supervision sessions to facilitate referrals to the Industrial & Services Co-Operative Society, or ISCOS. ISCOS will then follow up to channel supervisees to relevant social service agencies for assistance.
38. Since its launch in November 2019, CNB officers have referred 89 supervisees to ISCOS. CNB is currently evaluating the pilot programme which ended in April and will extend the programme to more reporting centres across the island, if the pilot is found to be effective. I was told that preliminary findings are positive.
Sustained International Engagement Efforts Beyond the Local Community
39. The third area of focus is to sustain international engagement.
40. It is important for Singapore to remain active in international fora, and work together with like-minded countries to ensure Singapore’s national interests are protected.
41. A good example would be Singapore’s efforts in rallying countries to reject the recommendations from the WHO ECDD. This was important to prevent the countries with more liberal drug policies from advancing in their agenda towards cannabis legalisation.
42. We have also recently announced our candidature for the membership of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs from 2024 to 2027.
A Moment of Celebration - CNB’s 50th Anniversary
43. Even as we continue to work tirelessly for a drug-free Singapore, it is an opportune time to applaud the good work done by CNB. This year marks CNB’s 50th anniversary and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on this very significant milestone.
44. To mark the occasion, I understand there will be a series of celebratory events lined up throughout the year.
45. I look forward to these events to mark CNB’s efforts and achievements over the past 50 years.
46. As we look back and celebrate how far CNB has come, let us remind ourselves of the vision, mission and values, that has seen, and will continue to see, the Bureau through the years. We must also continue to improve and transform, so that CNB remains relevant and able to respond swiftly to the evolving drug situation.
47. Let us continue to work towards the vision of a drug-free Singapore.
48. Thank you.