The news hit the gay community like a thunderbolt. Stuart Koe, the founder and chief executive of Asia’s leading English-language gay and lesbian portal Fridae.com (it also has a very active Chinese section) was charged with drug possession about a week ago.
Disclosure: This writer knows Stuart personally.
Here is the news report from Channel NewsAsia:
10 September 2010
Gay portal CEO and founder charged in court with drug possession
Chief executive and founder of a gay web portal, Stuart Koe was charged in court for drug possession on Wednesday.
The 38-year-old Singaporean was charged with possessing 0.01 gramme of methamphetamine and utensils used in drug consumption.
The drug and items were found in a flat in Holland Avenue on May 27 this year.
For these charges, he faces a combined jail term of up to 13 years, or a maximum fine of $30,000, or both.
Koe could not be contacted for comments.
The news was also carried in the Straits Times.
However, this essay is not about this case; it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it. In any case, I know nothing about the facts of the case except what I have read in the media. I have not discussed it with Stuart except to offer my moral support and any practical assistance he may need. For now, I shall expect my readers to hold fast to an important principle: One is innocent until proven guilty.
There was however, one tiny little thing about the news story that I found very curious, and that became the seed from which this essay germinated. As you can see, the report said the quantity involved was 0.01 gram of methamphetamine, which is more commonly known as ice.
For days after that, I tried to imagine what 0.01 gram of anything might look like. When I made my morning coffee and stirred in some sugar, I wondered what 0.01g of sugar might look to the eye. When I did my laundry, I wondered if the grain or two of detergent on my fingernail amounted to 0.01g.
One-hundredth of a gram. Can one, in the ordinary meaning of the word, “possess” that miniscule amount? Is it not too small for a human, lumbering giant as he is, to hold in confinement? Can we reasonably prevent this quantum from being lifted by the gentlest breeze, escaping our ownership?
And yet, we can be sent to jail for that, so says our Misuse of Drugs Act.
* * * * *
Supposing I chanced upon an antique opium pipe at a flea market selling at an irresistible discount, and I buy it. Since it’s an antique, I would hardly scrub it, paint it or do anything to it except keep it exactly the way it is. Its authenticity is what gives it value. Yet that very authenticity which I would be keen to preserve would likely mean traces of opium inside it.
I had no intention of owning the opium; I merely wanted the pipe. What would our Misuse of Drugs Act have to say about that?
A big No, it seems. I would be in trouble over both the traces of opium, and the pipe itself. Section 9 of the Act says:
9. Except as authorised by this Act, it shall be an offence for a person to have in his possession any pipe, syringe, utensil, apparatus or other article intended for the smoking, administration or consumption of a controlled drug.
Then my imagination began running even more wildly. Supposing, I said to myself, I went to a party at someone’s condo home where there were a few other guests I had never met before. One of these strangers, unknown to me, goes into a toilet to snort some cocaine. I, unluckily, am the next person to use the toilet, and my shirtsleeve brushes against some surface, on which a little cocaine dust had settled.
My sleeve picks up that dust, but I am totally unaware of it.
But the police have been tailing the abuser and he is arrested soon after. The police also ask the condo management for tapes from the closed-circuit cameras that watch over the entrance lobby to the building. Reviewing the tapes, the police identify who the other persons going to the same party are, and that includes me. They can also see from the video that I wore a checkered blue shirt that evening.
A week later, police officers are knocking on my door at 5 o’clock in the morning. They search my apartment and happen to see the checkered blue shirt in my laundry basket. That of course is taken away for testing, and of course, it comes back positive for 0.01g of cocaine.
The police ask me: Do you possess this shirt. I say Yes.
Were you at the party? I say Yes again.
I would be in deep trouble. What does the law say? Section 18(1):
Presumption of possession and knowledge of controlled drugs
18. —(1) Any person who is proved to have had in his possession or custody or under his control —
(a) anything containing a controlled drug;
(b) the keys of anything containing a controlled drug;
(c) the keys of any place or premises or any part thereof in which a controlled drug is found; or
(d) a document of title relating to a controlled drug or any other document intended for the delivery of a controlled drug,
shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have had that drug in his possession.
(emphasis added by Yawning Bread)
I possessed the shirt which “contained” the drug. Doesn’t augur well at all.
Naturally, I protest my innocence. I have no idea how my shirt got contaminated with cocaine, I tell the investigating officer. But it’s not good enough. The law contains presumptions. They don’t have to prove I knew about it. I have to prove the contrary: that I didn’t know. The word “presumed” is there in the last line of the above quote.
Moreover, subsections (2) and (3) of Section 18 say:
18. —(2) Any person who is proved or presumed to have had a controlled drug in his possession shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have known the nature of that drug.
(3) The presumptions provided for in this section shall not be rebutted by proof that the accused never had physical possession of the controlled drug.
Then, as if the above are not enough, I was associating with the cocaine abuser for several hours at the party. Subsection (4) is so ambiguous that everyone else at the party may be held equally liable for what he had in his pocket.
(4) Where one of 2 or more persons with the knowledge and consent of the rest has any controlled drug in his possession, it shall be deemed to be in the possession of each and all of them.
What on earth is meant by “knowledge and consent”? Suppose, at some later point during the party, the abuser told others in the room — with me within earshot — that he had some extra to spare if anyone were interested. No one took up his offer, as far as I could tell. Did I have “knowledge and consent”?
I didn’t actually see the cocaine; he didn’t show it to others. He merely said he had some on hand. Would that be enough to constitute knowledge? The rest laughed it off but carried on socialising. Did our continuing to stay in the apartment (with him there too) indicate consent?
If that’s the case, I was not merely in “possession” of the trace amount on my shirtsleeve, but jointly and severally in “possession” of the entire packet inside this stranger’s pocket!
The more one reads our laws, with their sweeping scope and trip-wire presumptions, the scarier everything seems.