The United Nation (UN)'s recent decision to remove cannabis and its derivatives from a list of the world's most dangerous drugs was a close one.
27 countries voted for cannabis to be removed from the most tightly controlled category while 25 countries voted against it.
In response, the Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said that the decision was driven by the "power of money" and Singapore takes a view that's in the public interest.
Driven by power of money
At a media doorstop on Dec. 5, Shanmugam said that the profit-driven companies are driving the idea that cannabis is not harmful citing a beer company, Constellation, is investing billions of money in the drug.
"Companies see a huge amount of profit and a very invidious idea that cannabis is not harmful is being pushed. But the evidence that it is harmful is quite substantive."
To illustrate further, Shanmugam also mentioned how pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma's aggressive promotion of addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin led to an opioid epidemic in the United States.
Shareholders benefited from the huge profits earned but many people's lives were wrecked due to opioid abuse.
While cannabis has medical purposes, it should not be left to companies to decide but a framework can be created and medical professionals should be the ones to request when necessary, Shanmugam added.
Recent evidence shows negative consequences of cannabis abuse
Shanmugam added that reputable science publication Lancet pointed out in 2019 that there is a greater risk of psychotic disorder from abuse of cannabis.
He also raised that the fact that the Surgeon General of the United States also pointed out three negative effects of cannabis just last year, including the increased risk in psychotic disorder.
The other two effects are affecting the learning in adolescents and a decline in IQ.
Shanmugam said that no one from the UN is able to prove that cannabis is not harmful:
"The evidence was quite clear. I said it to the United Nations at the UN. I said, look, if there is evidence that it is not harmful, we will change. But so far, what we have done has worked for us. No one has been able to show me."
Society has to bear the burden too
On a societal level, more resources will have to be devoted to deal with the negative consequences that cannabis abuse brings about.
In Colorado, where the sale and possession of cannabis are allowed, a study estimated that for every dollar the state receives in tax money from the sale of drugs, they spend US$4.50 in dealing with the negative consequences such as increased crime.
"Evidence shows an eight per cent increase in property crimes in Colorado, and I think if my memory serves me right, about 19 per cent increase in other kinds of violent crime, and 151 per cent increase in deaths arising from accidents relating to cannabis. How can it not be concerning?"
First-time drug abusers in Singapore on the rise
In light of the UN's decision on cannabis, Shanmugam said that it is of concern as first-time drug abusers in Singapore who are picked up are on the rise, particularly in relation to abuse of new psychoactive substances.
While Singapore continues to take a tough stance against traffickers and the big-time organisers, the agency will treat first-time drug abuse offence "more as a situation where you need help".
The focus on first-time offenders is to help them wean off the addiction and to reduce stigma against them.
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Top image via Shanmugam's Facebook and Unsplash