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Singaporeans support drug laws, but only half the country’s young say death penalty is appropriate: MHA survey

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s tough anti-drug laws get strong support across the population, but only about half of younger people here feel the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for severe drug offences, a government survey has found.

Younger people polled in a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs generally expressed more liberal attitudes towards drugs and penalties for drug offences.

Younger people polled in a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs generally expressed more liberal attitudes towards drugs and penalties for drug offences.

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SINGAPORE — Singapore’s tough anti-drug laws get strong support across the population, but only about half of younger people here feel the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for severe drug offences, a government survey has found.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) took the pulse of 2,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents on how they see the state’s anti-drug policies.

The study was the first of its kind conducted by the ministry, and included 902 young people aged 13 to 30. 

Nearly all the respondents (97.8 per cent) aged 13 to 75 agreed that Singapore should continue to maintain tough anti-drug laws and that drug consumption should remain illegal (97.5 per cent). 

Almost all respondents also felt that drugs affect families (98.2 per cent) and would harm a person’s health (97.8 per cent).

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Younger respondents, however, generally expressed more liberal attitudes towards drugs and penalties for drug offences.

For instance, only about one in two respondents aged 13 to 30 (52.7 per cent) felt that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for those caught trafficking in large amounts of drugs.

By contrast, 74.6 per cent of respondents aged above 30 felt the death penalty was appropriate for such offences.

The Singapore Government has been firm in its stance on the death penalty for drug offences.

For instance, offenders who traffic in more than 500g of cannabis — a drug also known as marijuana or weed — face the mandatory death penalty.

The survey findings also showed that youth were marginally less supportive of other punishments for drug offences than older respondents.

For instance, 77.5 per cent of the young felt that caning was an appropriate punishment. In comparison, 80.8 per cent of respondents older than 30 felt it was.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the MHA said that the Central Narcotics Bureau, Singapore’s drug enforcement agency, would step up its preventive drug education efforts, particularly for young people.

It will do so via social media campaigns to counter misinformation on drug abuse and rope in young people as anti-drug advocates to reach out to their peers about the harmful effects of drugs, for instance.

WHAT AN EXPERT AND YOUTH SAY

On the attitudes of youngsters towards the death penalty, sociologist Tan Ern Ser of the National University of Singapore said the question is whether these young people would become more conservative or continue to hold these liberal views in later years.

Associate Professor Tan said that the Government should continue to educate people from a young age about the dangers of drug consumption. Enforcement is also essential, he added.

“The Government should also actively engage young people on this issue and encourage them to offer their own solutions,” he said.

“Perhaps they should also be exposed to the reality of the drug-consumption scene. This could challenge their views on drug-taking and punishments.”

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Young people told TODAY that they were not surprised by the findings, as youth today are more open-minded and globally exposed.

They acknowledged that some of their peers may find the death penalty too harsh for drug offences, but felt that the practice should stay.

Business owner Shahroull Khairoullah, 27, said: “The harsher the punishment, the more you will learn.

“When you see people (face the death penalty) because of that, you had better not touch (drugs).”

Agreeing, Ms Tan Yen Ping, 24, a communication studies student at the Nanyang Technological University, said that the death penalty deters people from drugs.

“Any changes to the current laws will give people the impression that the Government is getting more lenient,” she added.

To deal with concerns among those who may be less supportive of the death penalty, Ms Tan suggested that the Government step up efforts to explain why the law needs to stay.

For instance, the authorities may highlight the impact of drug use on families of drug abusers and society at large, she said.

Human resource specialist Gideon Lim, 25, agreed that drug sellers should face the death penalty, but he felt that drug smugglers may have “heart-wrenching” reasons for offending, such as needing money to support their families.

“They should be given a second chance, as long as they can prove that they did not do it… to obtain monetary gains,” he said.

Weighing in on the findings, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam noted an increasing push globally for drug liberalisation.

“The stakes are high. If we let up, there are consequences for the safety and health of our people, our children and future generations,” he said.

“We must persevere with our tough laws and enforcement, even as we seek to educate Singaporeans on the harms of drugs and rehabilitate addicts.” 

YOUTH MORE LIBERAL TOWARDS CANNABIS

The MHA survey also found that youth generally expressed more liberal views on drugs, particularly cannabis.

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Eight in 10 respondents (79.9 per cent) aged 13 to 30 believed that cannabis abuse should remain illegal in Singapore.

By contrast, 89.2 per cent of those above 30 years old felt the same way.

A smaller proportion of younger respondents (67.5 per cent) also felt that cannabis consumption was harmful, compared with the proportion of older respondents (83.6 per cent).

The softening perception towards cannabis echoes a survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse done in 2015 and 2016.

About a third of the young respondents to that survey were of the view that cannabis was not addictive. The misperception was largely perpetuated by online sources alleging that cannabis had medicinal uses and should thus be legalised.

Statistics from the Central Narcotics Bureau show cannabis remained among the most commonly abused drugs last year, though the number of new abusers dropped from 204 to 172 between 2017 and 2018.

Last year, methamphetamine was the most commonly abused drug, with 1,021 new abusers.

Asked why it had decided to focus on cannabis in the survey, the MHA said that there was lower awareness of the harm of cannabis — particularly among young people — compared with drugs such as methamphetamine or heroin.

“Hence, there was a need for a better gauge of the level of public understanding of (its) harms,” the ministry said.

Cannabis, which is addictive, is associated with irreversible brain damage and serious mental illnesses. There is insufficient evidence on the effectiveness of the drug’s medical uses for most conditions, the ministry added.

Countries that have legalised cannabis have also seen crimes and social situations worsen, including more hospitalisations related to the drug, traffic deaths and violent crime, it said.

Cannabis is legal in countries such as Canada and Uruguay.

The MHA added that it may not be evident to some young people that the movement to legalise cannabis is fuelled by lobby groups with vested interests to legitimise a lucrative industry.

“We are concerned about this development,” the ministry said, adding that the insights from the study will help it to reach out to youth more effectively.  

Related topics

drug death penalty law

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