Only a fifth of those aged 16-24 want overseas cannabis use to remain illegal, older folks disagree
Attitudes towards cannabis consumption overseas are markedly different across generations, with younger people more accepting of it, according to a survey commissioned by The Sunday Times.
Among Singapore citizens and permanent residents under the age of 45, more believe it should not be an offence to consume cannabis in countries where it is allowed than those who said it should remain illegal.
This is one of the findings from a recent ST poll of 1,000 Singaporeans and PRs carried out by consumer research company Milieu Insight.
The survey found that 40 per cent of respondents aged 16 to 24 said such consumption abroad should not be illegal, while 21 per cent said it should be. The remaining 39 per cent had no opinion.
For both the 25-to-34 and the 35-to-44 age groups, 37 per cent said it should not be illegal, while 30 per cent said it should be.
Among the older respondents, more said using cannabis overseas should be illegal: 44 per cent of the 45-to-54 and 55-and-above age groups held this view. Twenty-seven per cent of the 45-to-54 age group think it should not be illegal, while the figure is 24 per cent for those above 55 years.
This caused the result across all age groups to be almost evenly spread - a third said consumption overseas should remain illegal, a third said it should not, and a third had no opinion.
The survey respondents were representative of the Singapore adult population.
It was commissioned after top swimmers Joseph Schooling and Amanda Lim made headlines in August for taking cannabis - also known as marijuana or weed - while they were competing in the SEA Games in Hanoi in May.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, Singapore courts can try Singaporeans and PRs who are found through urine tests to have consumed drugs overseas, as if the offence had been committed in Singapore. The law has been in place since 1998.
The survey found that 42 per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 strongly agreed or agreed that it is acceptable to consume cannabis overseas, in countries where it is legal to do so.
The figure was 40 per cent for those aged 25 to 34, and 31 per cent for those aged 35 to 44.
However, the figure was 22 per cent for the 45-to-54 age group, and 14 per cent for those aged 55 and above, showing a generational split in attitudes towards cannabis use abroad.
Younger Singaporeans interviewed disagreed that Singapore law should have overseas reach in this case.
Ms Lorraine Tan, 25, believes that overseas cannabis consumption should not be illegal, especially if the drugs are not trafficked back to Singapore.
"I don't feel that any government has the right to 'own' their citizens' bodies once they're outside the physical boundaries of the state," said Ms Tan, who works in the media industry.
Mr Movin Nyanasengeran, 30, believes the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes should be legalised but regulated, and abusers should not have access to the drug.
"Cigarettes also do harm to the body, so should they not also be banned instead of regulated?" said the PhD student at the National University of Singapore.
However, lawyers and academics said the extraterritorial reach of Singapore's drug laws was understandable, even necessary, to enforce its zero-tolerance stance effectively.
Criminal lawyer Ramesh Tiwary said: "Once we have determined that drugs are harmful, then it should be illegal wherever you consume it. Otherwise, the policing is impossible."
For instance, he said, anyone who consumes cannabis in Singapore would then be able to take a short drive or ferry ride out of the country and claim he took it while abroad to avoid penalties.
Singapore Management University's associate professor of law Eugene Tan held the same view, and said the law's extraterritoriality is not an overreach of state authority, as it focuses on citizens and PRs who return to Singapore and subsequently test positive for illicit drugs. "This unilateral regulation of drug consumers who are citizens and PRs is to promote and protect our anti-drug policy and interests of society. I would argue that in such circumstances, extraterritoriality is a state obligation."
Experts point to media portrayals, the availability of pro-cannabis information online and peer pressure as key reasons behind the more liberal attitudes of young people.
Mr Raymond Tan, who runs drug rehabilitation programmes at halfway house The New Charis Mission, said that among the challenges faced in educating youth was the wealth of information online on the purported benefits of cannabis use.
In his experience, peer pressure is a key reason many drug users in Singapore get started on the habit. "A lot of addicts never intended to be one - it always starts with the first puff out of curiosity and fun, but the last time never comes," he said.
Mr Chua Chee Wai, executive director of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, said the popularising of drug use through social media, pop culture and online platforms could result in young people becoming desensitised to its harms over time.
The legalisation of cannabis for recreational use by certain countries such as Thailand has also led to a more liberal view of drugs becoming widely accepted, he said.
Singapore's National Council Against Drug Abuse recently launched a campaign on video-sharing platform TikTok to engage young people on the harsh realities of drugs.
"We hope this shift towards more interactive mediums and native digital environments will help to encourage youths to engage in meaningful conversations in safe spaces," said a council spokesman.
cannabis for medical use
Slightly more than half of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents surveyed recently believe the Republic should consider legalising cannabis for medical purposes.
Asked whether Singapore should consider legalising cannabis only for medical purposes, 53 per cent said "yes".
More than a third, or 35 per cent, said "no" to any legalisation, and the remaining 12 per cent voted "yes" to legalising its use for both medical and recreational purposes.
Nearly three in five, or 59 per cent, of those aged 16 to 34 voted "yes" to legalising cannabis only for medical purposes.
This dropped to 57 per cent for those aged 35 to 44, 50 per cent for those aged 45 to 54, and 44 per cent for those aged 55 and above.
The ST survey found that the majority of Singaporeans, across all age groups, believe the use of cannabis is harmful, although some felt it could be beneficial if it is used for medical purposes.
It found 13 per cent said cannabis is harmful and has no medical benefits, while 44 per cent said it is harmful for recreational use, but may be beneficial if used for medical purposes. However, 38 per cent of respondents said they did not know enough about cannabis.
Only 4 per cent believe cannabis is not harmful at all.
For former drug addict turned lawyer Darren Tan of Invictus Law, his experience has affected his take on whether laws should be amended. He started abusing cannabis before becoming addicted to methamphetamine, and spent over 10 years behind bars.
He said he probably would have died from a meth overdose if he had not been arrested. "While I am pro-choice on most issues, I also have witnessed first-hand the immense harm associated with drug use - so I remain neutral on this issue," he said.