Legalising medical marijuana sets slippery slope for Singapore

The Singapore government adopts and maintains its zero-tolerance stance against drug abuse. Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam stated that Singapore’s consistent approach to curbing the supply and demand of drugs contributed to a relatively drug-free nation and minimised the negative impact on society from illegal drug use.

This feeds into an extremely low percentage in the number of abusers and drug-related arrests in Singapore. Such statistics should be lauded, and recognition accorded to the government on its firm position towards drug abuse. Afterall, Singapore did not gain its reputation in being listed as one of the world’s top ten safest countries according to the World Institute for Economics & Peace without the government’s heavy hand in drug classification and regulation.

Yet, it must be noted that the low number of drug abusers and arrests made does not mean that Singapore society is safer. A safe society requires measures that go beyond merely banning drugs. One can walk the streets of Singapore without bumping into drug addicts or risk walking on exposed needles on the ground. As the government recognises the negative externalities that illegal drug use exerts on society, it must also continually calibrate measures and policies in an ever-changing environment even if that means legalising cannabinoid use for medical purposes.

Thus, Singapore stands in stark contrast to Thailand and Malaysia; The former approved “medical marijuana” and the latter reportedly began talks on legalising its use. Singapore must take extreme care to avoid going down the path of a slippery slope if cannabis is to be legalised for medical use lest more drugs are touted to contain medical benefits. Such a decision may prove to be irreversible and instead expose Singapore to recognising more drugs that can treat medical conditions.

So, though Singapore cannot lay claim to being a completely drug-free society, the government must maintain its stance to ensure that no harm is caused to society by the illicit use of drugs. It does so by classifying psychoactive substances like cannabis as a drug and deems the possession and use of it as illegal. That the death sentence is meted out in certain cases sends a clear message: The government is serious about curbing illicit drug use. These measures must remain.

Though the ministries acknowledged the controlled and safe use of drugs that are supported by evidence, all stakeholders must draw a clear distinction between pharmaceutical products that contain cannabinoids and cannabis in its raw form. Regardless of the prevailing conditions of political and civil society, Singapore must not follow what neighbouring countries are doing. Thorough research and studies help steer the government in making the right decisions for the benefit of society.

While some countries legitimised the use of cannabis, simply terming it “medical marijuana” is not enough to legitimise cannabis in medical use especially when there is little to no evidence to support the positive effects in its use. Furthermore, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) conducted literature reviews and found no evidence validating the claims of raw and unprocessed cannabis in treating medical conditions. Instead, experts from IMH confirm the deleterious effects of raw cannabis after combing through extensive reviews of medical journals and literature by international medical bodies. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recognise nor approve the marijuana plant for medical purposes.

Minister Shanmugam recognises the dangers of pharmaceutical firms being able to influence U.S. politics. Here, Singapore must draw the line between government and business and ensure that the private interests of commercial entities do not influence politics. Such behaviour has no place in Singapore and the government must never bow down to pressure from any local or foreign actors.

Keeping the harmonious nature of Singapore society necessitates that pharmaceutical firms do not gain lobbying powers and pressure the government into legalising certain drugs to mask the drive for profit with serving the medical needs of the community. While there is opportunity for tax revenue, it also must not come at a higher cost to society lest lives, families and communities are wrecked.

Hence, the Singapore government makes abundantly clear its message on “medical marijuana” and must not waver on its hardline stance towards drug and substance abuse. The government necessitates the ban on cannabis for there is too much at stake in Singapore. Flexibility in legalisation can be afforded, but only with substantial evidence, academic and scientific rigour in drug studies and findings that point towards positive outcomes not only for individuals but for society as well. To ban cannabis is to also secure Singapore’s social safety, and it would do good to us all.