Singapore Begins Research Into Synthetic Cannabinoids Due To Strict Drug Laws

Singapore is home to some of the strictest drug laws in the world. Since 1973, Singapore has enforced the “Misuse of Drugs Act”- under this law, the possession or consumption of marijuana or cannabis can lead to a maximum 10-year jail term and/or up to $20,000 in fines while those found guilty of trafficking, importing or exporting more than 500 grams of the drug can be sentenced to the death penalty.

Last January 10, Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF), announced that as part of a broader S$25 million ($19 million) investment by the body into synthetic biology, it would develop synthetic cannabinoids, or chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant.  The initiative is expected to boost Singapore’s push to develop a “bio-based economy,” and grow new industries and create jobs in a sustainable way.


Singapore has a thriving pharmaceutical drugs business—including research and development and a growing focus on biotechnology. And that’s where the interest in medical marijuana comes in – or more specifically, medical cannabis produced in the laboratory.

It is illegal in the country to grow Cannabis plant even for research and development purposes and developing synthetic medicinal cannabinoids in a laboratory would mean that there will be no need to grow marijuana plants that can cause legality issues.

The NRF, which is affiliated with the National University of Singapore, said it plans to produce strains of medicinal cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant for therapeutic purposes relating to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Cannabinoids include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive element of weed) and cannabidiol (CBD, which is used for pain relief and produces no high).

Singapore joins nations like the United States and China which have invested in research and developing synthetic biology programmes, this came as a surprise because of the fact that such research into cannabinoids is being conducted in a zero drug tolerance nation like Singapore.

According to The Independent, the authorities are firmly set on sustaining Singapore’s image as a zero drug tolerance nation. Law Minister K Shanmugam reaffirmed this stance at the United Nations General Assembly in 2016 where several nations argued for regulated markets – instead of outright criminalisation – for drugs such as cannabis.

The Minister differed from the views of representatives from nations such as Canada, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Mexico, Jamaica, and New Zealand and said:

“For us, the choice is clear. We want a drug-free Singapore, not a drug-tolerant Singapore.

“We are located in a difficult environment. We are near several major drug production centres. We believe that drugs will destroy our society.

“With 200 million people travelling through our borders every year, and given Singaporeans’ purchasing power, a soft approach will mean our country will be washed over with drugs.

“This is why we have adopted a comprehensive, balanced, sustained and tough approach to tackling both drug supply and demand.

“The results speak for themselves. We are relatively drug-free, and the drug situation is under control. There are no drug havens, no no-go zones, no drug production centres, no needle exchange programmes. Our stance on drugs has allowed us to build a safe and secure Singapore for our people.”



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12 Feb 2018

By Anne Kristina Aguila