The freer availability of cannabis in Thailand, a place where lots of Singaporeans go to and from and where lots of tourists come from, will present more challenges, Law Minister K Shanmugam said to Malaysian broadcaster Astro Awani.
The harmful effects of cannibis is well-researched. It can cause irreversible brain damage, brain shrinkage, serious mental and psychiatric illnesses.
The UN World Drug Report 2021 says that cannibis products have almost quadrupled in potency. Yet, the percentage of young people who perceive cannibis as harmful has dropped by 40%. There is therefore a substantial disconnect between the real risk of cannibis and public perception of its harm.
500,000 people die each year from drug use.
The Thai story
Within a week of the Thai government decriminalising the sale of cannibis, cannibis was everywhere – in drinks, in food, in toothpaste and in cookies, Mr Shanmugam said.
The Thai government had to rein in the effects.
Among the moves made by the Thai government were the ban of smoking in public and the ban of sale of cannibis to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Schools were made cannibis-free areas.
“But once it’s in cookies, and once it’s in soft drinks, and once it’s in toothpaste, how do you protect breastfeeding mothers? How do you protect pregnant women? How do you protect young children? How do you police this? So, there are difficulties in controlling once you do this,” said Mr Shanmugam.
What will be the impact if Malaysia legalises cannibis?
Given the greater flow of people betweeen Malaysia and Singapore compared to Thailand and Singapore, it will be even more challenging for law enforcement, and keeping Singapore drug free, said Mr Shanmugam.
“If you mean by impact, whether because Malaysia does something therefore will we follow suit, I think that’s not the usual way our legislation works,” Mr Shanmugam said.
“We look at the research and we look at the science, and we decide for ourselves. And our laws don’t always look like Malaysian laws, and our policies don’t look like Malaysian policies. We diverge when we have to.”
The mandatory death penalty has a very high deterrent effect, said Mr Shanmugam. “If we remove that, the deterrent effect of the death penalty will be substantially reduced,” he said.
Singapore will not follow suit if Malaysia abolishes the death penalty.
“We will change when we think that the deterrent effect is no longer there, for example, or the conditions are different, and you need to adopt a different approach to have that deterrence.”
Mr Shanmugam said the task of any government is to persuade people that they are doing the right thing and it is his duty to persuade Singaporeans that the death penalty has a serious deterrent effect.