Drug Laws and You


This article is not legal advice. It only serves to raise awareness about Singapore’s Drug Laws, its application to Servicemen and the possible avenues they may have in the event that they are charged with drug related offences. Consult your attorney or Defending Officer before deciding how to act in any criminal case.

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Singapore’s law on drugs


Singapore’s drug laws are provided for in the Misuse of Drugs Act[1] (“MDA”), with a strict drug use policy nationwide and even in the Singapore Armed Forces (“SAF”). Most drug related offences will fall under the MDA. The MDA was enacted in 1973 and covers offences such as the possession of drugs, possession of drug-related equipment and even the trafficking of controlled drugs. The severity of the offence depends on the type of drug and the amount involved. More information on the list of controlled drugs and their respective sentences may be found in the First and Second Schedules of the MDA.


Given the proximity of both Full-Time National Servicemen and regular military personnel to civilian life, it is often difficult to tell where the lines of jurisdiction are drawn. Should you fall afoul of the SAF’s drug laws, this article may serve as a guide to the more common questions you may have.



When do SAF drug laws kick in?


Outside of service, Full-Time National Servicemen (“NSF”) are still governed by the same laws that apply to civilians. This means that they are governed by both the SAF[2] Act and civil law. If you are charged or requested to provide a urine sample outside of camp, you will be dealt with as a civilian. Civilians will be charged under the appropriate sections of the MDA depending on whether it was trafficking[3], possession or consumption[4] of controlled drugs. Consumption of controlled drugs outside of Singapore is also an offence.[5]


Military offences under the SAF Act or other relevant military provisions only take effect when you are subject to military law. Personnel will be subject to military law when they are on active duty or service[6]. In short, ask yourself where you were when you took your drug test. If it was done during active duty in camp or on board your ship, you will likely be charged under military law. If not, you will be charged as a civilian.


If you are subject to military law, you may be charged under Section 34 of the SAF Act for possession or consumption of controlled drugs. Under this offense, you may be liable to imprisonment not exceeding 5 years. Alternatively, you may be charged under Section 112 of the SAF Act together with the appropriate Section of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Section 112 of the SAF Act means that you, as a person subject to military law, may be tried by a subordinate military court instead of a civil court for civil offences. However, the judgement and sentencing would be similar to that of a civil court.


In the event that you have already been convicted under military law for a drug offence, you will likely be dismissed from service and turned over to a civilian court following an additional offence. Similarly, if you are an NSF you will be removed from National Service as you serve your sentence for the subsequent offence.



Am I a first-time offender? Which offences do they count?


Drug offences committed under SAF jurisdiction are considered to be distinct from civilian offences. What this means is that if you had previously been convicted for drug offences under military law, you will be charged as a first time-offender instead of a second-time offender under civil law.[7] However, the opposite is not true. Any offences committed under civil law will be taken against you and you will not be charged as a first time-offender.


In addition, not every instance of drug abuse is considered. What is important is the existence of previous convictions for drug offences. If you reoffend while your sentence is pending or are charged with multiple counts of drug consumption or possession, these charges do not constitute a second offence. Rather, these charges will be added to your charge sheet, as part of a single case against you.



What’s going to happen to me?


When you first enlisted, you may have been given the following facts:


  1. A first-time offender is liable to face a maximum of 2 years’ imprisonment and fine.

  2. A second-time offender is liable to face a minimum of 3 years’ imprisonment and fine.

  3. On conviction for a second-time offence, an offender will be dismissed from the SAF and will be discharged from the remainder of his NS liability.


Failing a drug test does not automatically incur the maximum sentence. The Chief Military Prosecutor has discretion in deciding their desired sentence when proceeding against you. The sentencing regime takes into account many different factors[8], including:


  • The severity and frequency of your drug use

  • The type of drug consumed[9]

  • Your conduct during your National Service

  • In very rare circumstances, certain hardships may mitigate an offence[10]

  • Any assistance you render to the Court in expediting proceedings or aiding law enforcement efforts


Discuss these factors with your Counsel or Defending Officer. These will help in drafting your Representations to the Prosecution and your Mitigation Plea. These documents will outline your case and make arguments for reducing your sentence.



What about that declaration in BMT?


If you’re reading this as an NSF, you may remember your commanders discussing the SAF Amnesty Scheme[11] during a talk in your Basic Military Training. The SAF Amnesty Scheme is not restricted to the health declaration you signed at the beginning of your service and is in fact a policy with continuous effect throughout your service term.

The point of the Scheme is to allow at-risk servicemen to seek help for their problems without the stigma of a criminal record. The SAF recognises that servicemen may suffer from the effects of prior exposure to drug abuse during the course of their service term. Even if you declared yourself drug-free at enlistment, you are still free to seek help for a previously undeclared abuse problem without incurring drug consumption/possession charges. The SAF will not charge you for misrepresenting your issues at the point of declaration.

There are, however, limits to this leniency. A serviceman has to seek help of his own accord, before he is caught or charged with possession. There is no point in attempting to invoke the Amnesty scheme when already caught red-handed. Further, this declaration and the Amnesty Scheme is not meant to be abused. A serviceman who declares his drug abuse history will still be subject to regular urine screening during his service term to ensure he remains drug-free. The SAF will assume a genuine attempt to reform, and you will be expected to comply to the rigorous testing schedules during your service term, even if you are already undergoing rehabilitation and counselling.[12]


References

[1] Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed

[2] Cap 295, 2000 Rev Ed

[3] Section 5 of the MDA (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed)

[4] Section 8 of the MDA (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed)

[5] Section 8A of the MDA (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed)

[6] Section 3 of the SAF Act (Cap 295, 2000 Rev Ed)

[7] “Overview of the Military Justice System”, Law Society Clinic Manual, 2017, https://lawsoc-clinic-manual.readthedocs.io/en/latest/sections/military-law.html, Public Prosecutor v D’cruz L Edward Ephiphany [1993] 1 SLR(R) 128 at [21]

[8] OCT Chew Hew Jing v CMP [MCA 01/2015] at [8], REC Victor Tjugito v Chief Military Prosecutor [MCA 01/2007] at [8]

[9] Section 33(2) of the MDA

[10] CMP v REC Hamzah Bin Mohd Ariff [MCA 02/2015]

[11]“Replies to Media Queries on the SAF Amnesty Scheme”, Ministry of Defence, 31 Oct 2015, https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2015/october/2015oct31-media-queries-00006

[12] Ibid.

#MisuseofDrugsAct #Drugs #SAFAmnestyScheme

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