0.01 gram and all that

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
Channel NewsAsia

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.

* * * * *

I began to imagine various scenarios that might get me into trouble.

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.

28 Responses to “0.01 gram and all that”


  1. 1 Stephanie 20 September 2010 at 00:47

    I confess I am not very much a supporter of gayish stuff though I respect their privacy and their existence amongst us.

    It is quite difficult to feel what 1 gram is like let alone 0.01 gram. Assuming Stuart indeed possessed the alleged ice as reported, what is the logic of possessing only 0.1 gram? Why not more?

    The case can only led ordinary people to suspect a conspiracy. One that some people ‘up there’ is trying very hard to prove to the world that gays are associated with ‘iniquity activities’.

    What if that 0.01 gram got carried by wind as in the nature of botany pollination (sorry, gentle breeze should suffice) from somewhere and found a suitable dwelling place in any part of the body?

    Indeed, one has the propensity to conclude a conspiracy theory. Stuart must have stepped the tails (metaphorically speaking) of some ‘high and mighty’ character(s) up there.

    I worry for him as the usual practice by professional law practitioners so far has been guilty-unless-proven innocent.

    Hope Stuart emerge unscathed.

  2. 2 Anonymous 20 September 2010 at 02:10

    Here’s what Google Books “The methamphetamine crisis: strategies to save addicts, families, and …” By Herbert C. Covey states. Page 10 Section on “Meth Doses”:
    When it is smoked, the amount needed is smaller – as little as 0.01 of a gram may be all that is needed.

    Still I don’t like the way the law has so many presumptions. Given such conditions, one suspects that perhaps our law enforcement isn’t that efficient. Perhaps it may be that the Singapore law is written to facilitate their jobs. Thus, creating a perception of efficiency when compared to other countries.

  3. 3 yuen 20 September 2010 at 04:57

    I have no opinion on the case itself, but to help people imagine the amount of 0.01 gram, note that one carat of diamond is 0.2 gram or 20 times 0.01 gram

    of course the two materials may differ in specific gravity, but 1/20 of a 1 carat diamond should give you a ball park picture

  4. 4 Kim 20 September 2010 at 05:42

    My 2 cents. The law perhaps states weight of drugs in the pure form. One can never get the actual chemical in its pure form let alone be able to use it (might even be fatal if pure forms were consumed). So people mix drugs with fillers just like the major part of a prescriptive pill is filler and maybe 0.1% of it is the active ingredient in its pure form.

    [second paragraph edited out because it commented on the case itself.]

    • 5 yawningbread 24 September 2010 at 01:06

      There was one reply to Kim’s comment, but it had to be removed, because it made a speculative comment about the case itself. As I said above, please do not comment on an ongoing case. We can discuss the general application of laws, but we should not say things that can interfere with the course of justice.

  5. 6 Kim 20 September 2010 at 05:44

    I forgot to subscribe to follow-up comments. This post is just so I could tick the first box below.

  6. 7 Wang 20 September 2010 at 09:22

    YB

    As you are well aware of and commented before.

    Drugs are not taken into their pure form but rather per street practice cut.

    The 0.01g is likely to be the pure weight. If you claim conspiracy theories, why only 0.01g, why not higher.
    It is also noticeable, the charge is only drug possession and not trafficking.

    Further, even in some of your prior articles, in the terminology used “recreational drugs” may be available.

    Hence, surprise, you would consider or even highlight as such.

    • 8 KiWeTO 20 September 2010 at 09:57

      I’d like to think that the point of raising 0.01 an an issue:

      ********************
      PRESUMPTION OF GUILT
      ********************

      No ifs, buts, because, however, but-if-ever… And as YB has pointed out before, the power to criminalize lies in the prosecutor, as the judge’s hands are already tied by the law.
      (and if you’re someone who isn’t exactly Mr.Church Mouse to begin with, one’d lucky to find a more lenient prosecutor.)

      Just because you have it, means you are guilty. It does not matter how you came to have it (intentional or not.)

      Draconian? What if those ‘pills’ and utensils were left by a *houseguest*? or worse, “planted” by someone with a grudge? What recourse would then anyone have against a proscriptive law?

      The thin veneer of an ‘equal society’ that we believe we live in. So easy to break and abuse if one chooses to.

      Theocracies have inquisitors, witch hunters and informants to enforce the tyranny of the majority; here, it depends which perspective one wishes to take.

      Secret police anyone?

      E.o.M.
      [Just what kind of society do we really want?

      One that starts with the presumption that everyone is morally bankrupt ahnd requires watching, and proscriptive&prohibitive laws that are draconian to the modern generation? or

      One that starts with the presumption that humans learn by trial and error (though somethings do not need trialing for one to learn the errors of his ways?!)?]

      E.o.M.

  7. 9 Anonymous 20 September 2010 at 09:57

    小题大做 xiǎotídàzuò:
    to make a big fuss over a minor issue (idiom)e.g. Alan Shakdrake and Stuart Koe

    大事化小,小事化了 dàshìhuàxiǎo,xiǎoshìhuàle:
    to turn big problems into small ones, and small problems into no problems at all e.g. the high society German girl caught for drug trafficking and the Australian (and his friends) who murdered two persons but escaped the death penalty because of interference by Australian govt.

    That’s our govt. Bully the weak and kowtow to the strong.

  8. 10 Anon 20 September 2010 at 09:57

    小题大做 xiǎotídàzuò:
    to make a big fuss over a minor issue (idiom)e.g. Alan Shakdrake and Stuart Koe

    大事化小,小事化了 dàshìhuàxiǎo,xiǎoshìhuàle:
    to turn big problems into small ones, and small problems into no problems at all e.g. the high society German girl caught for drug trafficking and the Australian (and his friends) who murdered two persons but escaped the death penalty because of interference by Australian govt.

    That’s our govt. Bully the weak and kowtow to the strong.

  9. 11 Alan Wong 20 September 2010 at 12:31

    I can imagine 15g is maybe what a teaspoonful of sugar will weigh. I’ll bet we probably cannot find any grain of sugar in the same spoonful weighing 0.01g.

    But yet in the case of the JC/ex-NMP’s son sentenced for with possession of 14.99g of cocaine, I just wonder how many times 0.01g of that same substance did they disregard to arrive at the 14.99g for sentencing ?

    From a business point of view, it only goes to show that our Govt may have valued someone’s life as equivalent to 0.01g of cocaine as only 0.01g that is all that is required legally to either save or destroy one’s life, depending on who that person is.

  10. 12 yuen 20 September 2010 at 12:59

    >15g is maybe what a teaspoonful of sugar

    incorrect; the sugar sachets you buy from supermarkets and use in restaurants are usually 5g; it would take a large soup spoon to hold 15g

  11. 13 yawningbread 20 September 2010 at 13:34

    Wang – I did not claim any conspiracy. In fact I said I’m not commenting on the case itself and neither should anyone else, since it is subjudice.

    Stephanie – why is it necessary to highlight your view of “gayish stuff” in your very first sentence, when the article was not about sexuality? It sounds like someone reads an article about a Malay entrepreneur being accused of cheating a customer (whether true or false not determined) and the first thing that comes to one’s mind, as well as the first thing one voices out, is one’s opinion of the entire Malay race.

    Look at the other commenters – they get the point of the essay. You’re the odd one out.

  12. 14 KT 20 September 2010 at 19:32

    Most drug lords probably never have any drugs in their possession. However, they can still be charged with possession of drugs given the law pertaining to ‘knowledge and consent’. That’s not totally a bad thing, is it?

  13. 15 KT 20 September 2010 at 19:51

    ‘One-hundredth of a gram. Can one, in the ordinary meaning of the word, “possess” that miniscule amount?
    Yes.

    Is it not too small for a human, lumbering giant as he is, to hold in confinement?
    No.

    Can we reasonably prevent this quantum from being lifted by the gentlest breeze, escaping our ownership?
    Yes.

    As some readers have pointed out, 0.01 g of whatever can be placed in a capsule. Or mixed in some ointment, I guess.

    There’s something about this post that I don’t quite like. It seems to be baiting readers to come up with conspiracy theories, which are usually just fear mongering.

  14. 16 Yvonne 20 September 2010 at 20:24

    I’m not discussing this case, or prejudging guilt or innocence in this or any other case either. Just as a hypothesis, if I was a secret policeman in a little pressure cooker of a country, say Israel, and I wanted to keep the peace by controlling two troublesome opposing camps, and I was planning a raid on one of them, say an influential fundamentalist synagogue, in few days time, I might want to look impartial by finding something to raid the other side (say the CEO of a Palestinian website) on at more or less the same time. Also then pending any trial (which might be in the distant future) I have a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, which I could use to control what they do or publish. Simple.

    This is a totally over the top conspiracy theory scenario of course! I’m not suggesting this could ever happen in Singapore.

  15. 17 yawningbread 21 September 2010 at 01:31

    I had to remove one comment. It was phrased very reasonably but unfortunately it commented on the case with some speculation thrown in.

  16. 18 Curious 21 September 2010 at 08:56

    I read some time ago that some guy by the name of Dinesh, who had prominent parents was also caugh with some drugs of the same sort but I beleive it was much more, but from what I remember he did not have to serve 13 years. If I am not wrong he got of very lightly. Guess Stuart too will get off lightly

    • 19 yamezt 21 September 2010 at 16:42

      They list the maximum penalty for scare mongering, so, if he is convicted, it is unlikely he would have to serve 13 years.

      Regardless whether 0.01g is visible or not it is very disturbing that one is presumed guilty and the onus is on the person caught with it to prove their innocence.

      It is also quite amazing to think that Tax payers have to pay for the prosecution and conviction of someone possessing 0.01g. Small wonder if it was a necessary expense to begin with.

  17. 20 Kevin 22 September 2010 at 17:02

    Your concerns are understable, but I think you don’t quite understand how the law works.

    The section of the Act you refer to merely says that if you have something containing a drug, there is a presumption of possession. This is a rebuttable presumption. All that means in real terms is that the balance of proof is shifted.

    In other words, it is for the Prosectuion to prove that the accused is in possession of a drug. If the Prosecution instead can only prove that the accused was in possession of an object which contained the drug (e.g. in your hypothetical, an antique opium pipe). A presumption would arise that you possess the drug therein. It is then open to you to prove that in fact you did not possess the drug because you had no idea the drug was in there (e.g. showing the shop where you bought the pipe, testimony from the shopkeeper that he had no idea there were drugs therein, the sheer unlikelihood that you would choose to keep your opium in a receptacle as obvious as an opium pipe etc.)

    As for Stuart’s case, I can wager an educated guess how this happened. The quantity of drug found is consistent with the residue left on implements after their consumption. The police were unable to find most of the drugs because they were consumed. Stuart’s lawyers will of course argue that the amount is so miniscule that there is reasonable doubt it got there by accident etc. The Prosecution will rely on circumstantial evidence such as the fact that utensils commonly used for drug taking were found, existence of drug traces on said utensils, toxicology findings on his blood and hair samples. The Court weighs all the evidence for and against to see if there is reasonable doubt.

    Until you’ve seen the machine at work from the inside, there is always the temptation to assume that people are being railroaded through the system. It doesnt help that the press never gives a full picture of all the evidence that was obtained.

    • 21 frogmarchmetoheaven 22 September 2010 at 22:02

      ///The section of the Act you refer to merely says that if you have something containing a drug, there is a presumption of possession. This is a rebuttable presumption. All that means in real terms is that the balance of proof is shifted.///

      But that’s exactly the problem and the unfairness of it. Why should the accused have to prove his innocence? What happened to the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty?

  18. 22 Roy Tan 22 September 2010 at 17:06

    0.01 g is the same as 10 mg of methamphetamine. This is not as miniscule an amount of the drug as you may imagine. Many commonly used drugs like Valium, the sedative-hypnotic, contain 5 or 10 mg of the active drug in each tablet. Tablets of Desoxyn, used to treat attention deficit hyperactivy disorder (ADHD) in children, contain 5 mg of methamphetamine.
    Therefore, if you are caught with 2 pills of Yaba (a formulation originating in Thailand and fast gaining popularity as a drug of abuse in this part of the world and also spreading to the West), after lab analysis of the tablets, you would be charged with having around 10 mg or 0.01g of methamphetamine in your possession.

  19. 23 Roy Tan 22 September 2010 at 17:22

    Watch this eye-opening National Geographic documentary on methamphetamine (Yaba) abuse in Thailand:

  20. 24 AnT 23 September 2010 at 17:11

    Deary,

    It depends on who you are.

    Even if it’s 1 kg and if it is sent for purity tests, it could become much much less than 0.01g.

    well, thats a real shameful sin!

  21. 25 Robox 24 September 2010 at 05:37

    There is a common thread that runs through not only all the laws you cited, but many others as well: they give prosecutors the widest possible discretionary powers to use – and often abuse – the law. The case against Alan Shadrake is yet another example of this; indeed, I lean towards the view that the Shadrake’s upcoming trial can be fought on the grounds of its unconstitutionality much as M Ravi has done in Yong Vui Kong’s case.

    This is contrary to the notion that government themselves must be constrained by checks and balances built into the system. But I have never known the PAP government to have ever felt obliged to be constrained either by law, especially constitutional law, nor checks and balances.

    However, in many other cases, the prosecution is given an unimaginably wide berth with wich to *interpret* law even if explict provision for that off-the-mark interpretation is not made in the statutes. (Unfortunately, I cannot think of one example right now that fits into this category, but I do reacll having taken note of this phenomenon as well; perhaps the Abdul Malik incident could be cited as one such case.)

  22. 26 M 24 September 2010 at 20:16

    I agree it is hard to spot 0.01 gram, and according to what Alex has stated, you could easily fall foul of laws without evening knowing.

    I could only hope our justice system is not that black and white, as the article stated, it was found with utensils, which I can only presume there is enough evidence to suggest consumption.

    All I could hope is that the approach to the case is fair and not just a plain of black and white interpretation of the law.

  23. 27 May Chu Harding 30 September 2010 at 13:35

    At least they won’t hang him.

    • 28 AnT 5 October 2010 at 16:30

      Love your expose in the book.

      You must come back and help us put the Lees in their rightful place, outside parliament of course.


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