Singapore 'disappointed' with UN move to loosen controls on cannabis: MHA

Singapore 'disappointed' with UN move to loosen controls on cannabis: MHA

FILE PHOTO: A man prepares a cigarette mixed with marijuana during Cannatech 2017, an annual global
A man prepares a cigarette mixed with marijuana during Cannatech 2017, an annual global cannabis industry event, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar 20, 2017. (File photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen)

SINGAPORE: Singapore said on Thursday (Dec 3) that it was disappointed with the United Nations’ decision to remove cannabis from the most tightly controlled category of narcotic drugs.

During the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), member states voted 27-25 with one abstention for Recommendation 5.1, which states that cannabis and cannabis resin should be deleted from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention – a global text governing drug controls. 

READ: UN drug agency loosens global controls on cannabis, following WHO advice

“Singapore is disappointed with this outcome,” said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). “There is no strong evidence to support the recommendations, including Recommendation 5.1.”

The vote followed a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation last year that "cannabis and cannabis resin should be scheduled at a level of control that will prevent harm caused by cannabis use and at the same time will not act as a barrier to access and to research and development of cannabis-related preparation for medical use".

Other drugs in Schedule IV include heroin, fentanyl analogues and other opioids that are dangerous and often deadly.

READ: CNB seizes drugs worth almost S$2 million, including largest single haul of heroin in nearly two decades

"The acceptance of Recommendation 5.1 could send a wrong signal that the CND has softened its stance against cannabis and fuel public misperception, especially among youths, that cannabis is no longer considered to be as harmful as before, despite strong evidence showing otherwise," MHA said.

The ministry stressed that the move will not impact Singapore’s zero-tolerance stance towards drugs. The international drug control conventions allow countries the flexibility to adopt national control measures that are stricter than required by the conventions.

Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Umej Bhatia delivered Singapore’s national statement at the CND session, reiterating the country's firm position on this, MHA said.

Mr Bhatia in his statement said the deletion of cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention "carries a high signature and will perpetuate the societal misperception that global authorities like the WHO and CND no longer assess cannabis to be as harmful as it was once thought to be". 

"This would encourage more abuse, especially among the youths, and create social and safety problems," he added. 

"We stress that the acceptance of Recommendation 5.1 should not be viewed as an endorsement of recreational cannabis use and must not pave way for further liberalisation of cannabis." 

"RIGHT TO LIVE IN AN ENVIRONMENT FREE OF DRUGS"

Every person should have the right to live in an environment free of drugs, said MHA in its release. “Illicit drugs, including cannabis, are harmful, addictive and destroy lives, families and communities."

READ: 'Novel methods' being used to smuggle drugs into Singapore amid COVID-19 restrictions: CNB

Singapore has tough drug laws against the trafficking, possession, consumption and import or export of illegal drugs, including cannabis, "which we believe will best protect Singaporeans", said MHA. 

These measures have worked well and kept the local drug situation under control "despite significant deterioration in the global and regional environments".

At the same time, controlled access to treatment options such as cannabinoid pharmaceuticals will continue to be allowed for medical purposes, it added.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said in a Facebook post that he was disappointed to learn of the decision and added that this "could send a wrong signal that cannabis is not as harmful as before". 

"Cannabis is the most widely consumed drug in the world today. It is extremely harmful and addictive, and poses an adverse impact on one's respiratory and cognitive functions." 

Singapore is not a voting member in the CND, but is a signatory to the international drug control conventions. The CND is the main drug policy-making body of the UN, and consists of 53 member states. 

SINGAPORE DID NOT SUPPORT WHO RECOMMENDATIONS: MHA

Singapore did not support the six recommendations made last year by the WHO's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, said MHA. 

"The scientific evidence presented on the safety and efficacy of cannabis for medical purposes was neither adequate nor robust," the ministry said. 

READ: IN FOCUS: Breaking the cycle of drug addiction passing from parent to child 

There were also "no compelling justifications" that the proposed rescheduling is required to reduce barriers to access cannabis and cannabis-related substances for medical and scientific purposes. 

"The current international drug control system already provides adequate access to such substances for such purposes.

"Some of the recommendations, if accepted, would cause gaps in the implementation of control measures and undermine the integrity of the international drug control regime," said MHA. 

The CND did not back other WHO recommendations, such as removing "extracts and tinctures of cannabis" from Schedule I. 

Schedule I is the next strictest level of control, which includes cocaine. 

Source: CNA/ad(cy)

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