23 July 2017
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Given clear evidence, drug buyer shouldn’t be punished like a drug trafficker: High Court judge

15 Jul 2017
Kelly Ng

Someone who buys drugs solely for his or her own consumption should not be liable for conspiring to traffic drugs, the High Court ruled. The judgement on Friday (July 14) came as it overturned the conviction of a man who asked a good friend to help replenish his personal marijuana supply.

Liew Zheng Yang, 25, was initially found guilty of two counts of abetting Xia Fanyu to trade 34.5g of cannabis and 68.21g cannabis mixture to him. Liew will now be re-sentenced for two reduced charges of attempting to possess the two drugs.

On September 23, 2014, Liew — who wanted to smoke marijuana but did not have any on him — approached Xia to get some for him. Xia travelled to Johor Baru in Malaysia to procure the drugs the same day and was arrested upon his return to Singapore the next morning.

Two blocks of marijuana were found on Xia: One meant for Liew and the other for his own consumption.

Liew was sentenced to five years and six months’ jail, with 10 strokes of the cane, for consuming and conspiring to traffic drugs. He had appealed against the conviction for conspiring to traffic drugs.

In a written judgement released on Friday, Judge of Appeal Steven Chong found that whether a buyer of drugs should be liable for trafficking, or abetting the trafficking, depends on the “intended final destination of the drugs”.

Where there is clear evidence that drugs are for the buyer’s own consumption, such as in Liew’s case, the consumer should not be punished as if he were a trafficker “simply because he agreed with his drug dealer to procure drugs for (himself)”, Justice Chong said.

His decision came two days after Ong Jenn, 41, grandson of department store Metro Holdings’ founder Ong Tjoe Kim, was sentenced to two years’ jail for two counts of attempted possession of drugs. He was initially acquitted of drug-trafficking charges as a district judge found that prosecutors “had not proven beyond reasonable doubt” that he was involved in trafficking.

Liew’s initial conviction for abetting to traffic drugs has “serious repercussions”, Justice Chong said, as the law has always made a “principled distinction” between the culpabilities of drug consumers and drug traffickers.

“Taken to its logical conclusion, (this) means that every time a buyer orders drugs from a seller for delivery to the buyer, that buyer, without more, would be guilty of abetting in a conspiracy to traffic controlled drugs,” he said.

By the same token, if the quantity of controlled drugs is above the threshold for capital punishment, the buyer could face the death penalty even if the drugs are for his personal consumption.

“This holding, if correct, would blur the legal distinction between the offences of drug trafficking and drug consumption,” Justice Chong said.

Preserving the distinction between the drug trafficker and the drug consumer is consistent with parliamentary intention, he added, pointing to the severe penalties directed at drug traffickers.

“To hold otherwise is to punish a consumer as if he were a trafficker, simply because he agreed with his drug dealer to procure drugs for (himself)… This would turn parliamentary intent of treating drug traffickers more severely than drug consumers on its head,” he said.

Those convicted of possessing or consuming cannabis can be jailed up to 10 years and/or fined S$20,000.

Illegal trafficking, importing and exporting of more than 500g of cannabis is punishable by death.

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