• Delphine Jamet

Singapore's Tough Drug Laws and the Death Penalty


The purpose of this report is to examine Singapore’s drug laws relating to heroin, both consumption and trafficking. In comparison to Australia, it appears to be extremely severe as Australia fails to enforce drug laws to anywhere near the levels of Singapore. Juxtaposing the situation of these two nations produces two very different impacts on their communities.


Singapore are recognised for their seemingly draconian laws that are enforced for simple crimes such as failing to flush a toilet, selling chewing gum (Criminal Law of Singapore, 2010), to the higher categories of consuming drugs and trafficking. Whilst other countries may choose to distribute fines or a few years of imprisonment as a penalty, Singapore on the other hand, shows the full force of the law with the death penalty as a consequence for what countries like Australia may see as fairly mild.

As a result of this no tolerance policy, Singapore enjoys a reputation of very low crime, drug dealers and users in their country (Criminal Law of Singapore, 2010). Whilst many countries may ignore the consumption of drugs, particularly as it is so widespread, Singapore takes action with imprisonment and caning as punishment for even the smallest amounts of narcotics appearing in drugs tests (Aquino, 2011).

In this report, I will examine the tough policies of heroin, confronting both the civilians and tourists who visit Singapore and its effect on tackling the issues. It is difficult to separate the drugs laws on heroin from the many types of drug laws, as they all appear to have similar penalties, therefore some generalisations will be made from specific Singaporean laws. I will then juxtapose this with the policies that Australia enforces, specifically Western Australia and New South Wales.

Police, aided by Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau, busted a major drug pipeline in 2018

History of penal codes in Singapore

Singapore was originally governed by the Indian Penal Code for most of the 19th century due to being part of the Straits Settlement, which was a group of British territories located in South-east Asia (Criminal Law of Singapore, 2010). It was then re-enacted into the Straits Settlements Penal Code in 1871 which progressed in the 1980s to include mandatory minimum penalties for certain offences (Criminal law of Singapore, 2010). The year 2006 saw a major reform in order to “make it more effective in maintaining a safe and secure society in today’s context” (Ministry of Home Affairs, 2006).

Criminalisation of heroin

Heroin was originally created by the Bayer company as a very effective pain killer to treat wounded soldiers and send them back into battle as heroes” (Bolt, 2007:2). Until 1953, it was legally available on prescription in Australia.

Singapore is recognised for enforcing the toughest laws in the world, particularly when it comes to drugs such as heroin. Possessing even the smallest amounts of drugs can result in serious charges with the more severe drug crimes resulting in execution. Contrary to Australian laws, defendants are given the burden of proof, meaning they are presumed guilty before their trial has begun and it is up to them to prove otherwise (Aquino, 2011).

Perhaps this has resulted in an impressively low usage rate in Singapore, with no drug dealers openly dealing on the streets and the usage rates for drugs such as heroin, opium and morphine believed to be as low as 0.005% (Aquino, 2011).

Furthermore, a person can be taken into custody without a warrant for purposes of submitting to a drug test by the Singapore authorities (Aquino, 2011). Consumption appearing in the urine test alone can result in a one year jail term for the first offence, three years for the second and five years with three strokes of the cane for the third time (Aquino, 2011).

What drugs are illegal

Singapore carries heavy penalties for a wide range of controlled drugs that can be found in most countries, particularly cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Whilst experiencing a population of 5.1 million (Kim, 2011), a large number of tourists find themselves at conflict with these laws, which results in Singapore having the lowest levels of illegal drug use in the world (Criminal Law of Singapore, 2010).

An inmate stands at a gate inside Tanah Merah Prison's logistics sector in Singapore

Current legislation and policies regarding heroin

According to Singaporean law, any person who is proved to have possession of two grams of diamorphine (heroin), shall be charged with drug trafficking unless it is proved that the possession of the drug was not for that purpose (Singapore Statutes Online, 2011). Possessing 2 grams or more of heroin will see a person branded as a drug trafficker, which carries a minimum of a $20,000 fine or 10 years jail. Possession of between 10 and 15 grams can attract a minimum of 20 years imprisonment and 15 strokes to a maximum of 30 years or life and 15 strokes.

Any more than 15 grams of heroin will attract a mandatory death penalty. “400 people have been hanged for drug trafficking in Singapore between 1991 and 2004” (Aquino, 2011). The death penalty was introduced in the Misuse of Drugs Act (Amendment) of 1975 as a response to the surging heroin epidemic during that time (Osman, 2002) and has an important deterrent effect (Ghosh, 2011).

Comparison to Australian policy

The laws of Western Australia that come under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, tend to be very mild when compared to the stringent controls of Singapore. Two grams of heroin, presumably with an intention to sell or supply, attracts a maximum fine of $3,000 or/and a maximum of three years imprisonment (Misuse of Drugs Act, 2011).

To be labelled a drug trafficker in Western Australia, a person must possess a minimum of 28 grams, which attracts a maximum $100,000 fine or / and a term of imprisonment of up to 25 years (Misuse of Drugs Act, 2011). In contrast, 15 grams of heroin in the Singaporean law would incur the death penalty.

The situation in New South Wales is similar, where possessing three grams of heroin can see a person charged with anything up to $550,000 and given a maximum of 10 years imprisonment to life. “Supplying includes having drugs in your possession for the purpose of supply” (Drug Offences, 2006:2). New South Wales describes possession of five grams of heroin as an indictable offence (two years and six months imprisonment), 250 grams as commercial and more than one kilogram as large commercial (Bolt, 2007:12).

Allowing drugs to be prohibited “results in uncontrolled criminal supply of these dangerous substances” (Halving Crime, 2011) but the same cannot be said with Singapore. Their “tough on drugs policy” has seen the drug scene reduced. It is very difficult to notice any evidence of dealers and users on the streets.

In Australia, “the traditional law enforcement approach has not worked and more importantly, never will” (Hughes, 2007). Hughes suggests that decriminalising the drugs could see some benefits in combating the “war on drugs”.

Advantages and disadvantages of the Singaporean drug policy

Singapore’s tough drug laws have enabled the authorities to control the abuse of drugs (National Council Against Drug Abuse, 1998 ), although it has been reported that the Malay communities, who make up 14% of the Singaporean population, account for more than half of the drug problem (Osman, 2002). The number of addicts arrested in Singapore numbered at 6165 during 1994, successfully decreasing to 3157 in 2000 (Osman, 2002), proving the iron fist methodology an achievement.

Users who test positive upon supplying a urine sample are committed to a treatment and rehabilitation program in one of the country’s seven Drug Rehabilitation Centres for a mandatory term of six to 36 months (Osman, 2002). Once an addict is released after completing their given term, they continue to participate in a two year supervision program. However once they are released, their name is submitted to the Central Narcotics Bureau (Goyder, 2011), which will enable the authorities to enforce a drug test at any given time.

Singapore has influenced the general public to maintain a stigma towards drug users, encouraging users to be treated as outcasts with no social status (Goyder, 2011). This in turn discourages users from seeking help and admitting they have a drug problem.

Tourists entering Singapore Airport may be drug tested upon arrival. Despite “smoking, administering or consuming a controlled or specified drug” in a previous country, they can still be charged with abusing drugs and face a term of imprisonment of up the one year for the first offence (Singapore Statutes Online, 2011). In addition they may not be aware of Singapore’s stringent policies.


Singapore enjoys a reputation of very low rates of crime, drug dealing and users in their country, as a result of their tough policies on drugs such as heroin. The government’s approach to criminalisation with a no tolerance approach to drugs has meant that there has been a reported decrease in levels of crime and drug related incidents.

The enforcement and the power of the drug policy can be seen as extreme in some situations. Those who choose to consume narcotics in other countries are targeted, some perhaps not knowing the laws before they arrive and find themselves in trouble with the law. They then find themselves subjected to terms of custody out of proportion with what they would experience in their own country.


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Bolt, S.(2007). Drugs and the law. Hot topics: legal issues in plain language. Sydney, Australia: Legal information access centre.

Criminal Law of Singapore. (2010). Retrieved from the Wikipedia Website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_law_of_Singapore

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Singapore Statutes Online. (2011). Misuse of drugs act. Retrieved from the Attorney General’s Chambers Website: https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/MDA1973

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