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‘Reckless, irresponsible’ to decriminalise drug use, says Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — Calls for the decriminalisation of drug use are “reckless, irresponsible, ... a cop-out and ... a step backward”, said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Oct 26), citing the negative consequences that others who have gone down the route have suffered.

Minister Shanmugam spoke out against the “romantic” notions painted by those who oppose the death penalty for drug offences. TODAY File Photo

Minister Shanmugam spoke out against the “romantic” notions painted by those who oppose the death penalty for drug offences. TODAY File Photo

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SINGAPORE —  Calls for the decriminalisation of drug use are “reckless, irresponsible, ... a cop-out and ... a step backward”, said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Oct 26), citing the negative consequences that others who have gone down the route have suffered.

Speaking at a forum on combating drugs, which involved local and foreign delegates from government agencies, non-government organisations (NGOs) and civil society groups, Mr Shanmugam also spoke out against the “romantic” notions portrayed by those who oppose the death penalty for drug offences.

Urging anti-death penalty activists to look at the big picture, instead of focusing on the individual getting hanged, Mr Shanmugam said: “What they do not focus on are the thousands of people whose lives are ruined, whose families are ruined, and the undoubted number of deaths that will occur if you take a more liberal approach towards drugs.”

He added: “The rise in homicides, rise in crimes that lead to deaths, these are not theoretical arguments, you just look at the places where the drug situation has heightened, gotten out of control, or is under less control.”

At the event, which was held at ParkRoyal on Beach Road, Mr Shanmugam said that countering the seductive arguments for liberalising drug use has become more “desperate” for the region, which has seen a worsening drug production situation.

Sources of methamphetamine in East and Southeast Asia were the highest in 2015, overtaking North America for the first time, for instance. Seizures of heroin and morphine related to the production of opium in Southeast Asia also nearly doubled between 2010 and 2015.

The minister pointed to Colorado in the United States as one example of a place where a softer stance on drugs has gone wrong. Among the negative consequences in the US state, he said, is a rise in the number of drivers who take the wheel while under the influence of drugs. When these abusers get into accidents, lives, including that of innocent road users, may be lost, he noted.

Pointing out that no one “counts these costs”, the minister cited the example of a father of a victim who railed against this.

The man, Mr Shanmugam said, started a movement called “Driving Under the Influence of Drugs – Victims’ Voices”.

In calling attention to the dangers of legalised drugs, the father said: “Colorado has chosen not to measure the outcomes of legalised marijuana, paying more attention to the commercialisation… People have referenced this as the grand experiment... and the only outcome they measure is the tax revenue, and that’s shameful and a disgrace.”

This, Mr Shanmugam said, is why Singapore chooses a “victim-centred approach” - clamping down hard on those who smuggle drugs and focusing on rehabilitating abusers.

He added that while the death penalty alone does not root out the scourge of drug trafficking, it is part of the framework here to tackle the problem effectively, by making traffickers think twice about smuggling in drugs, hence reducing supply, he added.

“We in Singapore, I have said repeatedly, do not take any joy or comfort in having the death penalty, and nobody hopes or wants to have it imposed,” he said.

“We do it reluctantly, on the basis that it is for the greater good of society. Indeed, that it saves more lives. That is the rationale on which we have it.”

To death penalty abolitionists, Mr Shanmugam had this message: “Go and study the places where laws have been relaxed, places where drugs have been legalised, find out what has happened and look at the number of deaths that have taken place in society, and then come back and let’s talk.”

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