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Man sold cannabis to undercover CNB officer, gets probation

Man sold cannabis to undercover CNB officer, gets probation

Screengrab from Google Street View of West Coast Plaza.

SINGAPORE: A man who sold cannabis to an undercover Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officer was sentenced to two years and three months' probation on Tuesday (Jan 21).

The judge told Tristen Joshua Rae Len Tan, who turned 21 in December, that he was fortunate to have pleaded guilty before he became an adult. If not, he would have faced a minimum five years' jail and five strokes of the cane for drug trafficking.

Tan pleaded guilty to one charge of trafficking cannabis and another of drug consumption. Another two similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

The court heard that Tan, who is currently serving his National Service, made an arrangement in July last year to sell a packet of cannabis to a man at West Coast Plaza shopping mall.

He met the man - who turned out to be an undercover CNB officer - beside Toast Box on the morning of Jul 24, 2019. He sold the officer a packet containing at least 8.53g of cannabis for S$490.

After passing the packet of cannabis to the officer and taking the cash, Tan walked away, only to be arrested later.

The packet was analysed by the Health Sciences Authority and found to be cannabis, a Class A controlled drug.

Tan had previously sold the same officer about 3g of vegetable matter containing cannabis derivatives. That incident formed one of the charges that was taken into consideration.

For this, he received about S$70 at a bus stop in front of Beauty World MRT Station on Jul 18.

After his arrest, Tan's urine was tested and found to contain a cannabinol derivative.

The judge had previously called for both probation and reformative training suitability reports.

The first report recommended 27 months' probation, while the second recommended six months in a reformative training centre.

Reformative training is a harsher punishment than probation as it results in a criminal record and detains offenders in a structured environment.


Deputy Public Prosecutor Bjorn Tan pushed for the court to sentence Tan to reformative training, pointing out that the young man had "a history of drug abuse" and multiple offences.

He cited from the reports that were tendered, saying that Tan experimented with cannabis when he was in Cairo, Egypt, between the ages of nine and 12.

After this, he consumed ecstasy in Thailand in 2017 while holidaying with friends and began abusing cannabis.

Stressing that there was an "escalation in his drug abuse habit", Mr Tan said the offender was at the tail end of the spectrum of young offenders.

He said Tan knew his actions were illegal but was undeterred. His drug supplier and another friend were arrested, but he continued abusing drugs and found a new supplier, said the prosecutor.


Defence lawyer Tan Hee Joek urged the judge to impose probation on his client instead, saying his client had capacity for rehabilitation.

He also clarified that his client had taken cannabis once while in Egypt when he was 12, when he was given a joint by someone who was about 17 years old.

"At that age, he just went along with the suggestion and tried it, not knowing what it was. He tried it and later on was told by this senior that it was weed," said the defence counsel from Tan See Swan and Co.

Tan took cannabis again in 2017 during a house party in Malaysia.

The lawyer said his client's case was "not the worst", and stressed that Tan was a young person who has demonstrated "a strong capacity for rehabilitation".

He said his lack of stability and negative experiences in his formative years may have had an effect on Tan's past offences, noting that a lack of parental supervision and an "unbridled lifestyle" allowed the drug activities to go undetected.

However, Tan's father has moved back to Singapore and both parents are monitoring him, said the defence, pointing to the family members who crowded the court.


The defence counsel added that when his client was interviewed by CNB, "he wasn't really aware why consumption of cannabis is such a heinous crime".

"He knows it's strictly illegal in Singapore, but he's not sure why it's regarded as such a heinous crime," said the defence lawyer. 

"When the CNB officer said it's because (actions) like his would fuel the actions of drug lords and cause social problems, only then it struck him that what he did was truly, truly wrong, and it was then he knew that he had done a truly grave error and heinous crime."

The lawyer pointed out that even the officer who prepared the reformative training suitability report felt Tan was "not a candidate who lacks capacity for rehabilitation".

The judge sentenced Tan to two years and three months' probation, with several other conditions. He has to perform 240 hours of community service, undergo regular urine tests, attend a drug intervention or counselling programme, and be placed on an electronic tag for a year.

His parents put up a S$5,000 bond to ensure his good behaviour.

"You must realise this is a very serious offence," said District Judge May Mesenas. 

"It's just fortunate you pleaded guilty before you turned 21, giving the court other options. Because you're looking at a minimum five years' jail and five strokes if you pleaded guilty after turning 21."

She maintained that she was prepared to consider rehabilitation as the dominant sentencing consideration in his case.

The prosecution indicated that they might appeal the sentence.

The penalties for drug trafficking are a minimum of five years' jail and five strokes of the cane, and a maximum 20 years' jail and 15 strokes.

Source: CNA/ll


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