Friday, August 9, 2019

MHA hits back at Asia Times op-ed alleging K Shanmugam spread ‘poorly informed’ drug stats

They pulled out a bunch of studies the op-ed writer somehow wasn't able to find.

Joshua Lee

August 3, 2019


The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday evening issued a statement countering claims made in an Asia Timesarticle on drugs and Singapore’s laws.
Article claimed K. Shanmugam peddled misleading statistics

The op-ed, “Singapore minister spreading disinformation about drug policy”, alleged that Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has been peddling “poorly informed and inflammatory” claims to back Singapore’s drug policy.

Its author, Gen Sander, is a human-rights analyst at Harm Reduction international, a non-government organisation that works to “reduce the negative health, social and legal impacts of drug use and drug policies”.

Sander’s article, dated July 17, asserted that the statistics used by the minister to justify the harsh stance Singapore takes against drug use and abuse are wrong or cannot be verified by existing evidence.

Examples he cited include drug mortality rates in Portugal, crime rates in Colorado, U.S. in relation to cannabis decriminalisation, as well as the financial cost of mitigating the downstream effects of cannabis legalisation.

Sander also claimed that Singapore’s death penalty is not an effective deterrent in the fight against drugs.

Using statistics from a 2018 World Drug Report, which acknowledged that the global drug market is flourishing, Sander wrote that there is “no evidence that the death penalty has any unique deterrent effect on either the supply of drugs, or the use of drugs”.
MHA provides list of studies

In its response statement on Friday, MHA provided a list of studies on the social cost of decriminalising drugs and the impact of cannabis decriminalisation on crime rate.

Social costs of drug abuse

With respect to the social costs of drug abuse, the ministry mentioned a U.S. study that showed an increase in the number of foster care entries coinciding with a surge in opioid uses and overdoses between 2012 and 2017.

Drug mortality rates in Portugal also increased 150 per cent between 2001 and 2008 after drugs were decriminalised, according to a 2011 UC Berkeley study provided by the ministry.

Countering Sander’s claim that decriminalisation is more cost-effective than prohibitionist approaches, MHA cited a Centennial Institute study that concluded that “the costs associated with commercial marijuana are only going to go up as the long-term health consequences have not been fully determined”.

Clear relationship between cannabis and crime

MHA also provided studies that showed a clear relationship between cannabis and crime.

The city of Colorado reported a 8.3 per cent increase in property crime and 18.6 per cent increase in violent crimes from 2013 to 2016 after cannabis was legalised, according to a study by the Strategic Intelligence Unit.

In Los Angeles, crime rates in 2014 increased after a cannabis dispensary was opened the previous year, according to this study.

“Homicides increased by 245 per cent; robbery increased by 49 per cent; aggravated assault went up by 44 per cent; larceny jumped by 38 per cent; and motor vehicle theft rose by 22 per cent the following year,” said MHA.

MHA: Death penalty is an effective deterrent

On the subject of the death penalty, MHA insisted that when used with other measures, it is an effective deterrent:

“We adopt a multi-pronged strategy, targeted at reducing both drug supply and drug demand, and with emphasis on rehabilitating drug abusers. This is achieved through preventive drug education, tough laws and robust enforcement, and a structured and evidence-based rehabilitation framework.”

In particular, MHA pointed out that Singapore’s drug situation is under control, and the country is relatively drug-free.

“In 2018, the number of drug abusers arrested comprised less than 0.1 per cent of our population,” it said.

[I don't disagree with our drug policy and laws, and our drug problem is generally under control. Therefore, I do not think countries who have given up and capitulated - legalising and decriminalising drugs is capitulating - have any standing to critique or rubbish our approach.

Here is a comment on social media:
Four points.

1) The Asia Times article begins with a comparison of the trends in Malaysia and Singapore: "while Malaysia’s health minister recently announced the government’s plans to decriminalize drugs, in stark contrast next door, Singapore’s law and home affairs minister, K Shanmugam, continues to make poorly informed and inflammatory claims on drug policy."

Well then. Obviously if Malaysia is doing it it must be the right and best thing then. Really, if the intent of the writer is to shame SG into following a role model, she should pick a better role model than Malaysia. In my recollection, it is Malaysia that follows what SG does, rather than the other way. In fact, for most Singaporeans, we would consider MY to be a NEGATIVE role model - if they do it, we probably should think twice.

2) The studies cited and provided by MHA, that presumably informed Shanmugam's defence of our drug policy and laws were not what I would consider "solid" evidence or studies. One was a grad thesis by an Economics grad on the situation in Portugal. His conclusion was appropriately tentative - that while the decriminalisation of drugs were *associated* with an increase in homicide and drug mortality, as any good scientist would point out, "correlation is not proof of causation".

The second study was by the Centennial Institute, which is a conservative Christian think tank (?) and part of the Colorado Christian University, "working to uphold faith, family and freedom". Call me sceptical, but I am wary of their agenda and their methodology. Also, at the end of the list of bad things legalising marijuana had done, they pointed out that the industry used energy enough to power 32,000 homes in 2016, produced/emitted 393,000 lbs of CO2, and 18.8 million pieces of plastic packaging. It's like they wanted to make sure they got the climate and environment warriors on their side as well. Which smacks of desperation. And a pow-ka-liao approach to their study which suggests the precision of a shotgun.

The point is, it is possible to find studies to support your theory or policy.

3) Opium war. Opium trade. And the (historical) humiliation of China/Chinese by Western Imperial powers. I am not a China apologist, or a huaqiao wannabe. I am just someone with an interest in history and the lessons of history. The opium addicts created by the opium trade pushed onto China (200 years ago?) is at least anecdotal evidence of the scourge of drug addiction. And once again, we have Western Human Rights Organisations trying to tell us that "drugs are not that bad", and we should decriminalise drugs. Of course, the counter to that is the Prohibition Era in the US when alcohol was outlawed, and the rise of organised crime that Prohibition caused, led (in part) to the eventual repeal of Prohibition. Which leads to point 4.

4) If SG's situation is like the US, if our drug situation here now resembles the US during the Prohibition Era, when gangsters and organised crime were out of control, when the law and the authorities could not control the flow of illicit alcohol (or drugs), and the US gave up and gave in, and repealed prohibition, then maybe, MAYBE, we should consider decriminalising drugs.
But understand this: we will do so then NOT BECAUSE we are convinced that it is BETTER to decriminalise drugs, but because we had LOST THE BATTLE against illicit drugs, and organised crime. And decriminalising drugs would remove one raison d'etre for organised crime.
Let me elaborate.

I agree. using Malaysia's capitulation and compromise is NOT a strong starting point. If Malaysia were better off economically, financially, fiscally, and were a strong society that Singapore looks to as a role model, perhaps. Otherwise, this was not a shot across our bow, but a shot into the author's own foot.

The Centennial Institute study was quoted to rebut the assertion that decriminalisation was cheaper than drug enforcement. Even if the Centennial study is rubbished (and part of its conclusion is speculative), and it is CHEAPER to decriminalise than to enforce drug laws, so what? We need the money? We need to save money by allowing drugs to destroy lives?

And yes, drugs are destructive - Opium trade, opium wars, opium dens.

Perhaps, at certain levels of drug use in society, it makes more sense to control drug use with laws. And perhaps past a certain point or percentage of drug use by society it is less cost-effective to try to control drug use and it makes more (economic or fiscal) sense to relax controls and even legalise and regulate (as in tax) drug use. Like alcohol and cigarettes.]

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