Skip to main content
Best News Website or Mobile Service
WAN-IFRA Digital Media Awards Worldwide
Best News Website or Mobile Service
Digital Media Awards Worldwide
Hamburger Menu




CNA Explains: Why is it against the law for Singaporeans and PRs to take drugs overseas?

It was not always illegal for Singaporeans to consume drugs overseas. The law covering drug consumption overseas was passed in 1998 to plug the "loophole".

CNA Explains: Why is it against the law for Singaporeans and PRs to take drugs overseas?

A man displays buds to celebrate the legalisation of cannabis at the “Thailand: 420 Legalaew!” weekend festival hosted by Highland in Nakhon Pathom province on Jun 11, 2022. (Photo: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

SINGAPORE: If you did not already know, taking drugs overseas – whether it is in Phuket or Ibiza – may get you arrested for drug consumption upon your return to Singapore. 

Olympic swimming champion Joseph Schooling, 27, made headlines recently after confessing to consuming cannabis while overseas in May.

Fellow national swimmer Amanda Lim, 29, was also investigated for cannabis use. Urine samples from both tested negative but the pair admitted to having taken drugs in the past, officials and agencies said.

While comments on the case were split between sympathy and calls for fair treatment, others asked why a resident's criminal act overseas could be prosecuted in Singapore.

CNA speaks to lawyers about the extraterritorial nature of Singapore's drug laws. 

When and why did Singapore close this "loophole"? 

While Singapore's laws generally do not apply to residents who commit crimes overseas, certain laws, including the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973, have an extraterritorial nature. That is, they apply to Singaporeans and permanent residents who offend overseas. 

Under the Act, Section 8A states that a citizen or permanent resident who consumes drugs overseas "may be dealt with as if that offence had been committed within Singapore". 

Speaking in Parliament during the second reading of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill on Jun 1, 1998, then-Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng said the Government needed to plug the "loophole".

More Singaporeans were consuming drugs when travelling, with the number of people testing positive for drugs at checkpoints rising 26 per cent from 1994 to 1997, Mr Wong said.

At that time, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) could not charge those who used drugs overseas, even if they tested positive at immigration entry points. 

"With more Singaporeans travelling overseas, the easy access of drugs nearby in neighbouring countries and the proposed harsher penalties for hardcore addicts, it is prudent to plug this loophole," said Mr Wong. 

"Otherwise, local addicts would intentionally make trips out of Singapore to neighbouring countries to get their fixes to avoid arrest and prosecution in Singapore, and to make a mockery of our drug laws."

The provision came into effect on Jul 20, 1998, and states that a person found to have smoked, administered to himself or consumed a controlled or specified drug - whether outside or within Singapore - through a urine test will be dealt with as if the offence had been committed in Singapore. 

The law was applied in the case of DJ Debbie Valerie Tenashar Long who consumed drugs during a trip to Amsterdam. 

Long was arrested at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 1 on Oct 28, 2015, and her urine sample was found to have contained traces of drugs. 

Aside from drugs, corruption is another offence for which Singaporeans can be prosecuted even if committed overseas, under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1960. 

Other statutes, such as the Securities and Futures Act 2001, the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021, and the Passports Act 2007, also have extraterritorial aspects.

Lawyer Amarjit Singh Sidhu from Amarjit Sidhu Law Corporation also pointed out that under the Penal Code, commercial sex with a minor below 18 outside Singapore is an offence. 

The Penal Code also covers facilitating tours outside of Singapore for commercial sex with a minor under 18. 

Besides urine tests, are there other ways the authorities can test for drug use? 

Other methods, such as a hair test, can be used to test for drug consumption.

CNB began using hair tests in 2013 to detect drug users. A positive result can be obtained from hair samples, even months after drug use.

But while a positive hair test can be used as evidence in court against those who used drugs locally, it cannot be used to prosecute a person returning from abroad, said Mr Wilson Foo of Fervent Chambers.

Mr Foo said this may be because drugs stay in the hair for a longer time, and may not be able to show whether a person has taken drugs recently. 

A positive result from a hair test would be "primary evidence that the subject has consumed a prohibited substance" such as cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine and opiates, said lawyer Shashi Nathan from Withers KhattarWong.

Hair tests are rarely used in evidence but could be a useful investigative reference for the CNB, Mr Nathan said. Likewise, Mr Sidhu has not encountered a drug trial where the prosecution adduced hair evidence.

"A subject would have to explain or give reasons as to why there is a positive result," Mr Nathan said. 

How will those found to have been taking drugs overseas be punished?

"The authorities have the discretion not to charge first offenders or young offenders for consumption and may refer them to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) for rehabilitation," Mr Nathan said.

He added that the authorities might opt to put the offender under a supervised urine test regime, like Schooling was. "This would give the subject the opportunity to show that the consumption was a one-off and that there are no addiction issues."

The decision to charge or issue a warning to potential offenders is at the prosecuting authority's discretion, said Mr Foo. 

"The authorities can consider factors such as previous warnings given, DRC admissions, criminal records or compassionate grounds."

Listen: Associate Professor Eugene Tan explains how extra-territorial jurisdiction works

Source: CNA/wt(cy)


Also worth reading