S'pore leading Asian meet to stand united against drugs

SINGAPORE will lead a new anti- drug conference for Asian cities in August next year in a bid to rally support for its zero-tolerance stance towards drugs, said the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA).

The move is aimed at pushing back the momentum of drug liberalisation policies that more countries and cities have adopted in recent years, council chairman Victor Lye told The Straits Times.

The NCADA-led event will come ahead of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (Ungass) on Drugs in 2016. Mayors, officials and non-governmental organisations from cities like Bangkok and Manila can be expected to meet to discuss their respective drug situations and find common ground, said Mr Lye.

The council hopes to gather like-minded governments against what Mr Lye calls "sophisticated and well-organised commercial interests".

The overarching goal of the conference that NCADA is planning to organise would be to form a unified Asian stance in support of drug prohibition, said Mr Lye.

A worldwide anti-drug coalition will be a necessity when Ungass sits in 2016, given the strides that a well-financed pro- drug lobby have made, he said, citing examples such as the United States, which now has 23 states that allow the medical use of marijuana.

The UN General Assembly will meet in 2016 after the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico formally requested in 2012 that it organise a conference on drug policy reform. A resolution towards this conference - sponsored by Mexico - was later co- sponsored by 95 other countries.

While the UN's position in 1998, and as recent as 2009, was to achieve the goal of a drug-free world, it admitted in a joint ministerial statement in March that both the smuggling of precursor chemicals used in making synthetic drugs and the illicit growing of drugs like opium poppy continue to be "major challenges".

A leaked draft of the statement late last year showed there was deep disagreement over the long- term direction that world drug policy should take, with many South American countries wanting to move away from prohibition to explore alternate drug policies, while Norway pushed for discussion on drug decriminalisation.

This means the 2016 session will likely be a key battleground that decides world drug policy moving forward, said Mr Lye.

"The pro-drug lobby knows that this is their window, in 2016, to try again, after failing in 2008 to push through a UN charter that will say yes to regulation and decriminalisation of drugs," he said, adding that medical marijuana, for example, is a Trojan horse used as the first step in the fight for legalisation of illegal drugs.

This view is shared by anti- drug experts, who said they are increasingly fighting against the tide when it comes to public perception on the drug.

"As many Americans and other populations of the world have learnt to expect easy, medicinal solutions to complex problems, the prescription drug and medical marijuana industries have grown," said Professor Mina Seinfeld de Carakushansky, president of a Brazil-based non-governmental organisation and the former head of Rio de Janeiro's Drug Prevention Bureau.

Mr Lye warned that should the UN adopt a softer position on drug control, it would become difficult for Singapore's current anti-drug policies to be effective.

"We can maintain our own drug policies but... can you imagine if you can cross to some other country on a few hours' flight and have a drug party without being caught?" he asked.

"If we don't fight for our interests, very soon our children are going to have drugs available in our backyard here - legally."


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