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Distinction between drug trafficker and drug consumer


14 July 2017

Can one conspire to traffic drugs to oneself?

1. Introduction

The High Court held that someone who buys drugs solely for his or her own consumption should not be liable for conspiring to traffic drugs.

2. Background

It was held in the District Court that Liew Zheng Yang was found guilty of two counts of abetting Xia Fanyu to get the drugs and to deliver the drugs to him. On the same day, Xia travelled to Johor Bahru, Malaysia and got the drugs for himself as well as for Liew.

The District Court sentenced Liew to five years and six months’ imprisonment, with 10 strokes of the case, for his offences of consuming and conspiring to traffic drugs. Liew appealed against the latter conviction.

In Liew’s appeal, Liew raised a novel point of law as to whether a buyer who orders drugs from a seller for delivery to the buyer can be guilty of abetting the seller in a conspiracy to traffic the drugs even if the drugs were intended solely for the buyer’s own consumption.

In the written judgment by Judge of Appeal Steven Chong at [45]:

Both Parliament and case law have consistently treated trafficking and consumption as mutually exclusive offences. Such distinction and its underlying rationale applies also to charges of conspiracy to traffic. The distinction cannot be ignored by the Prosecution’s choice of charging the consumer of drugs with a conspiracy to traffic drugs to himself. 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 him. In fact, if that were the case, the consumer would be in a worse position than the drug trafficker: unlike the drug trafficker, the consumer would not be able to rely on the defence of consumption. This would turn Parliamentary intent of treating drug traffickers more severely than drug consumers on its head.

3. Conclusion

In a landmark ruling, we persuaded the High Court to overturn the conviction of a man who had asked a good friend to help replenish his personal marijuana supply. The High Court held that someone who buys drugs solely for his or her own consumption should not be liable for conspiring to traffic drugs.

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