Singapore: Laws And Regulations On Illegal Drugs

Last Updated: 20 February 2019
Article by STA Law Firm

Singapore by far has the toughest drug laws in the world. The country's strong and determined hold on the Misuse of Drugs Act has implemented a penalty for even possessing a small amount of illegal narcotic substance. In fact, the country advocates for execution if one is found in possession of a large quantity of drugs.

As per the Misuse of Drugs Act, if an individual is found to have been in possession of an illegal narcotic substance or a large amount of drugs, then the individual will be presumed to be trafficking the said drug. As per the drug laws in Singapore, the burden of proof would lie on the defendant to prove his innocence, not on the government.

There have been various instances where an illegal narcotic substance has been found in the car or in the house of a person, and that person is presumed under the law to have possession of the same. In such a case, the burden of proof will be placed on the defendant to prove his innocence. The law on drugs has always been an inconsistency with the authoritarian law enforcement culture of Singapore; for many years Singapore has followed a strict punishment system, maintaining the same to work best at controlling evils in society, such as the use of drugs.

The country has been successful in keeping a strict check on the use of illegal narcotic substances. This is evidenced upon comparing the consumption rates of illegal drugs in Singapore to that of counties. For example, in the UK, 8.2% of its population is found to be cannabis users, whereas, Singapore's usage rate is found to be at 0.0003%. For drugs such as heroin, opium, and morphine, the equation of comparison stands at 0.9% for the UK and 0.0005% for Singapore.

What is the Penalty for the possession of illegal drugs?

According to the guidelines stipulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the penalty for the possession of a small amount of illegal drugs ranges from $20,000 to the extent of ten years in prison. The Central Narcotic Bureau has a list of controlled narcotic substances that one should not bring into the country.

As per Section 17 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, a person is automatically presumed to be trafficking drugs if he is found in possession of illegal drugs ranging within the following amounts:

Drug Quantity
Heroin 2 grams or more
Morphine 3 grams or more
Opium 10 grams or more
Hashish 10 grams or more
Cocaine 3 grams or more
MDMA 10 grams or more
Methamphetamine 25 grams or more

As per Section 17 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, a death penalty can be given if the convict has been proven to be in possession of an illegal drug beyond the mentioned quantities:

Drug Quantity
Heroin 15 grams or more
Morphine 250 grams or more
Opium 1,200 grams or more
Hashish 200 grams or more
Cocaine 30 grams or more
Methamphetamine 250 grams or more

It was only since the amendments in January 2013 that judges could abandon issuing the death penalty for drug smugglers, and rather, impose life sentences. But for the same to be applicable, the accused should have made a case that he was only a drug courier, that he suffers from a particular mental disorder, or that he/she has turned out to be beneficial in helping the Narcotic Bureau.

Authorities don't need a warrant to drug test you!

A person can be taken into custody to conduct a drug test, and there is no requirement of a warrant for the same. For first time offenders arrested for the consumption of an illegal drug, the punishment could be one year incarceration. However, second-time offenders who have committed the same crime can be imprisoned for three years. Should the unlucky individual get caught a third time, the defendant would be sentenced to five-years of punishment with three strokes of a cane. Consumption of an illegal substance means that the urine of an individual has been tested positive for a substance. In the case you have consumed a drug before entering the borders of Singapore, and have been detected to have a drug in your system, even then though you have not consumed the drug in Singapore, you will be charged for the same.

A few tips to avoid even the barest possibility of getting arrested with charges of Drugs in Singapore:

  • Remember, the laws of Singapore will presume that you are in possession of the illegal drug substance and will prosecute you for the same if your luggage or belongings are found to have any amount of illegal narcotic substance in the same. Hence, avoid carrying things for friends or acquaintances without being sure of what it is.
  • There is no doubt that Singapore has a zero tolerance towards possession of illegal drugs. Travelers visiting Singapore are advised to contact the relevant department and be sure if the medicine they are carrying along with them is on the controlled list and if it needs prior permission from the authorities before carrying into Singapore. A traveler arriving with prohibited medication without prior approval or documentation may be denied entry or even prosecuted for the same.
  • You can be sued, fined and also imprisoned if you are detected to be under the influence of illegal drug substances in Singapore. Detection of illegal drug substances in your blood or urine will also hold you responsible for being in possession of the same, and hence you can be prosecuted. Therefore, it is advised to detox your body before entering the borders of Singapore in case an illegal drug has been consumed.

A few cases wherein drug offenders in Singapore have been severely dealt with

  • Johannes Van Damme: A Dutch national was caught in possession of 9.5 pounds of heroin in his suitcase while in transit at the Changi Airport in Singapore. The arrest took place in 1991, and he was executed for the same in 1994. He put up a case that he was unaware of what was in the briefcase and he was only carrying the same for a Nigerian friend. Despite appeals from the Dutch Foreign Ministry and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, he was still executed for the offense on 23 September 1994.
  • Nguyen Tuong Van: The arrest took place after he was detected via a metal detector at the Changi Airport for a packet of heroin strapped to his body. Upon investigation, he was found to be in possession of 396.02g of heroin from Cambodia. The quantity was more than 25 times then that required to be granted the death penalty under the Misuse of Drugs Act. He was convicted for the same and was sentenced to death on 20 March 2004.
  • Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi: Arrested at the Chandi Airport, authorities grew suspicious when he spent over 24 hours in transit. Upon further investigation, he was found to be in possession of over a pound and a half of diamorphine capsules which was estimated to be valued at US$970,000. He was proved guilty and was executed on 26 January 2007.


By now it is a well-understood fact that Singapore holds zero-tolerance for illegal drugs and narcotic substances. The country advocates the death penalty to persons found in possession of a large quantity of illegal drugs. Singapore adheres to a system of severe punishment which has helped them keep a strong check on the possession and consumption of illegal drugs in the country.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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