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S’pore’s position on cannabis underpinned by scientific evidence: MHA

SINGAPORE — Any review of Singapore’s position on cannabis will have to be “based on scientific evidence”, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reiterated on Thursday (Sept 27) following media reports that neighbouring country Malaysia is in talks to legalise the drug for medical use.

A Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson stressed that Singapore's drug-control policies are underpinned by evidence and research.

A Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson stressed that Singapore's drug-control policies are underpinned by evidence and research.

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SINGAPORE — Any review of Singapore’s position on cannabis will have to be “based on scientific evidence”, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reiterated on Thursday (Sept 27), following media reports that neighbouring country Malaysia is in talks to legalise the drug for medical use.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, an MHA spokesperson stressed that Singapore's drug-control policies are underpinned by evidence and research.

In this regard, literature review conducted by Institute of Mental Health experts confirms that cannabis is addictive and harmful, especially to the brain, said the spokesperson.

“On the other hand, evidence of cannabis’ long-term safety and efficacy is scarce,” she pointed out. “These findings corroborate our position that cannabis should remain an illicit drug. Even if cannabinoid pharmaceuticals have to be used for medical purposes, there are carefully established frameworks in Singapore for their clinical prescription.”

In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this week, Dr Xavier Jayakumar, Malaysia’s Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources, said the Cabinet “very briefly” discussed the medicinal value of marijuana — also known as cannabis — in a meeting last week, and has started early and informal talks on amending the relevant laws.

His comments followed public outrage over the death penalty handed to a 29-year-old man who was convicted of possessing, processing and distributing medicinal cannabis oil.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said that the verdict and relevant law should be reviewed in the country, where Muslims make up more than half of the population.

The Cabinet has reached consensus to remove capital punishment in the man’s case, but garnering support for legalising medical marijuana will be “an uphill battle”, Dr Xavier said.

Canada has taken the lead in developing the medical pot sector, creating a cannabis industry worth more than US$60 billion (about S$82 billion) ahead of legalising cannabis use next month. Germany and a few states in the United States are taking its example.

Thailand’s Government Pharmaceutical Organisation, a unit of its Ministry of Public Health, is trying to persuade its military government to approve a study of the drug so that it can market it for medical use.

The Singapore Government has stood firm about not decriminalising and legalising drugs, while pointing out that the use of marijuana should not be seen purely as a public health or medical issue.

Earlier this month, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the opioid crisis in the US and its growing cannabis problems underscore why Singapore must take a “firm and clear-headed” approach on drugs or the problem will “spiral out of control”.

On Thursday, the MHA spokesperson reiterated that Singapore “adopts a comprehensive and sustained approach to tackling both drug supply and demand”.

This approach has allowed the country to remain relatively drug-free: Last year, the number of drug abusers arrested comprised less than 0.1 per cent of its population.

The MHA spokesperson said: “Decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs, including cannabis, is not relevant, nor necessary or appropriate in societies such as ours, with the drug situation well under control.”

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