A Comprehensive Guide To Drug Offences: Types And PenaltiesSep 14, 2023
This short article will discuss three of the most common type of drug offences in Singapore, namely:
Before delving into the forecited offences, a short discussion on the different classes of drugs is necessary. If you are facing legal issues related to drug offences or considering guilty pleas, consulting experienced criminal lawyers can be invaluable.
The Classes of Drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act
There are three classes of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act (“MDA”) – Class A, Class B, and Class C. The punishments for offences relating to Class A drugs are the most severe, and, as such, will be focus of this article.
Class A Drugs are defined in Part 1 to the First Schedule of the MDA. The 3 most common Class A drugs in Singapore are: (a) cannabis (also commonly known as “weed”); (b) heroin; and (c) methamphetamine (also commonly known as – “Ice”).
Class B Drugs are defined in Part 2 to the First Schedule of the MDA. They include: (a) Codeine; (b) Norcodeine; and (c) Zipeprol.
Class C Drugs are defined in Part 3 to the First Schedule of the MDA. They include: (a) Benzphetamine; (b) Chlorphentermine; and (c) Triazolam.
The offence creating provision is Section 8(a) of the MDA, the relevant portion of which reads as follows:
“… it shall be an offence for a person to… have in his or her possession a controlled drug…”
It is also important to note the three key presumptions that relate to possession. They are:
- Presumption of Possession and Knowledge under Section 18 of the MDA
A person (A) will be presumed, until the contrary is proven, to have possession of a controlled drug if A has possession or custody or control of: (a) anything containing a controlled drug; (b) the keys of anything containing a controlled drug; (c) the keys of any place or premises or any part thereof in which a controlled drug is found; or (d) a document of title relating to a controlled drug or any other document intended for the delivery of a controlled drug.
Further, A is proved or presumed to be in possession of the controlled drug, A would be presumed to have known the nature of that drug until the contrary is proved.
- Presumption relating to vehicle under Section 21 of the MDA
The presumption in Section 21 MDA reads as follows:
“If any controlled drug is found in any vehicle, it is presumed, until the contrary is proved, to be in the possession of the owner of the vehicle and of the person in charge of the vehicle for the time being.”
The punishment provision for possession of a controlled drug can be found in the Second Schedule of the MDA, which provides for a maximum imprisonment term of 10 years or a fine of $20,000 or both.
What is the sentencing guideline for an offence of possession? There are two key inquiries – 1) The class of the drug; and 2) the amount (in grammes) of drugs found in the offender’s possession.
Thus, a higher sentence will be meted out for possession of class A drugs as compared to class B drugs. Further, the greater the amount (in grammes) of drugs found in the offender’s possession, the higher the sentence will be.
The offence creating provision is Section 8(b) of the MDA, the relevant portion of which reads as follows:
“… it shall be an offence for a person to… smoke, administer to himself or herself or otherwise consume – (i) a controlled drug, other than a specified drug; or (ii) a specified drug…”
The punishment provision can be found in the Section 33(3A) of the MDA, which provides for an imprisonment term of not less than one year but not more than 10 years and also a fine not exceeding $20,000 (this applies only to offences after 1 April 2019).
It should be noted that more severe punishments will be meted out for repeated offenders – if, for example, a person has consumed a controlled drug previously (i.e., he is a repeated offender) he will face a minimum of 3 years imprisonment under Section 33(4) of the MDA.
The MDA also contains presumptions relating to consumption:
- Presumption concerning premises under Section 19 of the MDA
In summary, if a person is found in or escaping from any place or premises where a pipe, syringe, utensil, apparatus or other article intended for the smoking, administration or consumption of a controlled drug is found, that person will be presumed to have been smoking or adminstering a controlled drug unless the contrary is proved.
- Presumption relating to urine test under Section 22 of the MDA
In summary, if a person’s urine test comes back positive for a controlled drug, that person will be presumed to have consumed that controlled drug unless the contrary is proved.
It should also be noted that under Section 8A of the MDA, it is an offence for Singaporeans or Singapore Permanent Residents to consume drugs overseas.
Although the punishment for consumption of drugs is harsh, the law also recognizes the need to rehabilitate drug abusers. First time drug offenders might be admitted to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) for treatment and rehabilitation. Admittance to the DRC does not carry a criminal record.
Further, first time drug offenders who are assessed to have a low risk of reoffending might be served with an Enhanced Direct Supervision Order (EDSO). Under the EDSO, the drug offender will not go into DRC, and are allowed to stay at their place od residence. During the supervision period, they will be required to attend counselling sessions and undergo urine tests.
Trafficking is the most serious of the 3 offences. Section 2 of the MDA defines “traffic” as follows:
““traffic” means –
- to sell, give, administer, transport, send, deliver or distribute; or
- to offer to do anything mentioned in paragraph (a)
otherwise than under the authority of this Act, and “trafficking” has a corresponding meaning;”
As can be clearly observed, the drafters of the MDA have given “traffic” a very broad meaning. For instance, if an offender (A) were to take a packet of drugs from person (B) located at the east side of Singapore, and subsequently hands it to person (C) located at the west side of Singapore, A would have committed an offence of trafficking.
However, in the same example, if A were to then return the packet of drugs to B (and never gave it to anyone else), A would, without more, be a mere “bailee”. In other words, A would have merely safe-kept the drugs for B. The key inquiry would thus be whether A knew or intended that the “bailment” was in some way part of the process of supply or distribution of drugs. If A never knew or intended for his safe keeping (of said drugs) to be part of the process of supply or distribution of drugs, A would not be liable for trafficking.
The offence provision for trafficking is found in Section 5(1) of the MDA, which reads as follows:
“Except as authorised by this Act, it shall be an offence for a person, on his or her own behalf or on behalf of any other person, whether or not that other person is in Singapore –
- to traffic in a controlled drug;
- to offer to traffic in a controlled drug; or
- to do or offer to do any act preparatory to or for the purpose of trafficking in a controlled drug.”
It should also be noted that the MDA provides a presumption in relation to trafficking:
- Presumption of Trafficking under Section 17 of the MDA
If a person is found with a certain amount (in grammes) of drugs, he will be presumed to have intended to traffic it. The onus is on the person to prove otherwise.
For instance, if a person (A) is found to be in possession of 15 grammes of cannabis, the law presumes that A intends to traffic cannabis.
The punishment provision for trafficking can be found in the Second Schedule of the MDA.
What is the sentencing guideline for an offence of trafficking? There are two key inquiries – 1) The class of the drug; and 2) the amount (in grammes) of drugs that the offender had trafficked.
Thus, a higher sentence will be meted out for trafficking of class A drugs as compared to class B drugs. Further, the greater the amount (in grammes) of drugs trafficked, the higher the sentence will be.
It would be helpful to illustrate the punishment for trafficking by way of reference to a very common Class A drug – cannabis.
First, the Court will determine the appropriate starting sentencing point based on the amount (in grammes) of cannabis that the offender had trafficked. The table below illustrates the same:
|Cannabis (in grammes)||Imprisonment||Caning|
|Up to 99g||5 – 6 years||5 – 6 strokes|
|99 – 165g||6 – 7 years||6 -7 strokes|
|165 – 231g||7 – 8 years||7 – 8 strokes|
|231 – 264g||8 – 9 years||8 – 9 strokes|
|264 – 297g||10 – 13 years||9 – 10 strokes|
|297 – 329.99g||13 – 15 years||10 – 11 strokes|
|330 – 380g||20 – 22 years||No indicative strokes stated|
|381 – 430g||23 – 25 years||No indicative strokes stated|
|431 – 500g||26 – 29 years||No indicative strokes stated|
Next, the Court will then adjust the indicative sentence based on the culpability of the accused – factors such as the accused’s motive for trafficking and the degree of sophistication and planning might warrant an uplift in the sentence. Conversely, mitigating factors such as the accused’s early plea of guilt and genuine remorse might warrant a downward adjustment to the sentence.
If an offender is found to have trafficked in more than 500 grammes of cannabis, he might face the death penalty. However, the Court retains the discretion to sentence the offender to life imprisonment and not less than 15 strokes of the cane instead of the death penalty if the following conditions are met:
- the offender’s involvement was restricted to transporting, sending or delivering the drugs, or offering to transport, send or deliver a controlled drug; and
- the offender has substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore. The determination of whether the offender has substantively assisted the CNB is at the sole discretion of the Public Prosecutor.