Decrim, Singapore-style

Some Canadian politicians have been calling for decriminalization of marijuana, along with various police chiefs and the RCMP. Yet what do they mean by “decriminalize?” Do these groups truly want to ease up on their war against pot-puffers?
The key to the drug war

At a 1990 United Nations conference on illegal drugs, Uncle Sam shook his finger vigorously at the “drug producing nations” for not doing enough to kill all their coca, poppy and pot farmers. The other nations responded that if it wasn’t for America’s unparalleled demand for these products, their farmers would grow other crops.

Canada sided with the “drug producing nations.” The Minister of Health said “No amount of enforcement will solve the Canadian drug problem as long as Canadians remain willing to give $10 billion a year to traffickers,” and therefore demand reduction was “the key”.

The Minister also claimed that 70% of Canada’s anti-drug spending goes to education and treatment, with the rest to enforcement.

Decrim ? Reform style

Now that Canada had the demand reduction “key” to the drug war, they were ready to unlock the door of perception and walk through to a drug-free nation. There was just one problem: How to reduce demand without using prison?

Enter Keith Martin, a reform MP from Vancouver Island who wants marijuana “decriminalized.” His definition of decrim includes “increased penalties” for marijuana possession, in the form of high fines, to be used to pay for “mandatory treatment” for pot smokers. But no one would end up with a criminal record.

As it turns out, this wasn’t a very original idea. The totalitarian military dictatorship of Singapore has been doing it for years.

A short, sharp shock

All nations should “follow the example of” Singapore, according to the UN International Narcotics Control Board’s 1995 report. In Singapore, personal pot possession is decriminalized. Sure, you get a mandatory death sentence for being found in possession of over 500 grams of cannabis, but 15 to 499 grams gets you the cane, and “mandatory treatment.”

Singapore has “decriminalized” drug use. Pot smokers and other illicit drug users are arrested, but are not given criminal status. Instead, they are put into mandatory “rehabilitation centers.”

A 1989 article in the New York Times explained how first time users are put into “cold turkey” detoxification in spare rooms for a week. A week of recuperation from detoxification follows, plus a schedule of “paramilitary discipline.” Next comes two weeks of “intensive physical training” and equally intensive “personal, group and family counseling.”

Up to half are sent home after this program, and for two years they must report to the police for urine tests on a regular schedule, undergo counseling and be subjected to surprise urine tests.

The other half are put into a more stringent three-month course at another center, and then enter a four-month day-release program, followed by two years of urine tests and counseling.

Tellingly, 70% of the Singapore Central Narcotics Bureau’s annual budget of $11 million is spent on treatment and rehabilitation ? just like Canada! Singapore’s tough stance on drugs hasn’t made the country “drug free” yet. In fact, their “drug problem” just keeps getting bigger every year.

Not harsh enough

In October 1994, Singapore’s Minister of Home Affairs stated that between 1990 and 1993, the total “addict” population in Singapore’s five drug rehabilitation centers rose by 30 per cent to 7,400. By August 1994 the number had risen to 7,7001, by December 1994 the number was 8,700.2

“We need to take a tougher and a more drastic stand against drug addicts to deter them from relapsing” said the Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng.

Two weeks later, Singapore’s two year “rehabilitation period” was doubled to four years.

Slavery was also introduced. Deputy Home Minister Datuk Ayob explained how “fully-rehabilitated addicts” would be sent to “work in companies or cottage industries set up in the centers.” Those still undergoing rehabilitation would do farming and animal rearing.

Back at home

Canada might be getting closer to Singapore’s system than many realize. Toronto has already jumped on the “decrim/slavery” system. In 1998, Toronto judges began “diverting” pot-smokers to do “community work” instead of getting criminal records.

Vancouver’s Mayor Owen has also been pushing “Drug Courts”. Drug courts sound good at first – no criminal record – but as Singapore reveals, mandatory treatment can be worse.

BC’s Premier Ujjal Dosanjh has said that he was “inspired by the visits to a community court in New York and a drug court in Portland, Oregon, where addicts are diverted into treatment programs and their progress closely supervised by the judiciary.”

“After reading about the experience in both of those places,” continued Dosanjh, “I believe a drug court would be appropriate for the Downtown Eastside. We need one and we need one at the earliest possible time.”3

What inspired our Attorney General so? It was described in detail in a two-page cover story in the November 1, 1998 Province:

With more than 300 drug courts operating in the US, there is a variety of approaches. In Oregon, it all begins with an arrest for possession of drugs, anything from marijuana to cocaine, methamphetamines (speed) or heroin. …Those who opt for the STOP program (Sanctions, Treatment, Opportunities and Progress) are given 14 days to try it out. If they don’t want to continue, they can opt back into the regular court system.

People who miss treatment dates or fail random drug tests face court-imposed sanctions. They can be ordered to sit for several days in court, ordered to take daily drug tests, or even be jailed for a few days. Warrants are issued for those who take off part-way through. When they are arrested, they can be thrown out of the program and sentenced immediately.

Those who complete the program must pay, over the 12 months, $400 toward the cost of the program ? a fee that can be waived at the court’s discretion. After a year, if they prove to be drug-free with six consecutive clean tests, they graduate, get a diploma and the original charges are dropped.4

Watch out!

When Keith Martin, Mayor Owen and the RCMP talk about “decrim”, they are not advocating a system which liberates pot-smokers, but rather a more efficient way to persecute us.

Sucking out $500-$1000 fines from “drug abusers” will fund the mandatory treatment, completing the Singaporean cycle of “decriminalized” oppression.

As the marijuana movement becomes more successful and we see the possibility of ending the war on pot-people, we must be careful not to let our oppressors trick us into accepting a halfway measure which will do more harm than good.

Mandatory treatment is not a progressive step, but is instead an entrenchment of the drug war, and we must be vigilant to oppose it.


(1) “The Death Penalty: No Solution to Illicit Drugs” October, 1995 Amnesty International
(2) “Tougher measures on the cards to tackle recalcitrant addicts” March 16, 1995 Singapore Straight Times.
(3) “Dosanjh proposes drug courts on Eastside.” December 24, 1998 Vancouver Sun.
(4) “Judge Last Chance gives addicts hope ? The Portland antidote.” November 1, 1998 Province.