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Local Skincare Start-Up Got Caught Smuggling Drugs Unknowingly. We Interviewed Them To Find Out What Happened.

On the morning of 19th December 2018, the founder of skinx got called up by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers when he was told that his products contained a controlled substance – Cannabis oil – and had to be seized.

Now, let’s backtrack a little.

The Introduction of Kush Mascara in the Market

Kush Mascara from Milk Makeup
Kush Mascara from Milk Makeup

You might have heard about the revolutionising Kush Mascara from Milk Makeup (a fully vegan makeup brand that is based in New York) that was released on 20th April 2018. It was widely publicised to have Cannabis oil as one of its ingredients and is even stated blatantly in the product description on the Milk Makeup website.

The justification of including this drug was that being a vegan brand meant beeswax was out of the question, in fact, Cannabis oil is able to provide conditioning properties, while having the ability to fill their heart-shaped mascara fibres well enough to achieve maximum and long-lasting volume, length and curl in your lashes.

These mascaras have gotten a 4.5-star average rating based on 1,242 reviews on their website, and it has even been Jeffree Star-approved!

So, how did the whole incident begin?

It all started when Reddit user botoxilum posted a thread about Kush Mascara being sold on the skinx store.

Reddit Thread posted by user botoxilum: Kush Mascara sold on skinx store
Reddit Thread posted by user botoxilum: Kush Mascara sold on skinx store

Within a few hours, the thread had gotten numerous upvotes and replies. Here are some of the responses:

User tjhan’s response to the Reddit thread
User tjhan’s response to the Reddit thread
User letteboxmind and HidingCat’s responses to the Reddit thread
User captmomo highlighting that Nylon Magazine Singapore was sent a Cannabidiol sleeping mask to try

The founder of skinx, R, then stepped in to clear the air:

Before I continue, here’s a crash course on Cannabis.

Infographic on the differences between hemp and marijuana

Generally, out of 480 natural components derived from Cannabis resin, 66 of them are Cannabinoids; of which, can be put into different categories such as

  • Cannabidiols (CBD)
  • Cannabigerols (CBG)
  • Cannabichromenes (CBC)
  • Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC)
  • Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabinodiol (CBDL)
  • Others e.g. Cannabitriol (CBT), Cannabicyclol (CBL)

THC, CBN, CBDL and some others are psychoactive drugs while CBD, CBG and CBC, on the other hand, are non-psychoactive and are therefore allowed to be used in certain countries for cosmetics and body washes, for instance.

The most abundant types of Cannabis are CBD and THC.

Infographic on Hemp VS Marijuana

Next, the terms Cannabis, Hemp and Marijuana are often used interchangeably, however, they are not exactly the same.

There are 2 classifications of Cannabis plants – Indica and Sativa – and both the Hemp and Marijuana plants fall under the Cannabis Sativa family. While both these plants have many similarities, Marijuana has a higher concentration of THC and a lower concentration of CBD while it is the opposite case for Hemp.

So, what is used in the Kush Mascara?

As explained by Milk Makeup in one of their articles, they have used CBD oil extracted from Hemp which according to a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago, may reduce inflammation and possibly treat acne and eczema. Other benefits of CBD oil include reducing chronic pain, anxiety and seizures as well as to treat arthritis.

But the fact is – Singapore has differing laws from the United States. According to Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, these are some of the drugs listed under Class A Controlled Drugs:

(23) Cannabinol
(24) Cannabinol derivatives
(25) Cannabis and cannabis resin

Unfortunately, CBD oil would fall under “Cannabis and cannabis resin”, which presumably would include both psychoactive and non-psychoactive Cannabis drugs.

The punishment (in skinx’s context) would likely be:

Nature of offense
Unauthorised import or export of cannabis mixture where the quantity is —
• not less than 660 grams and not more than 1,000 grams
Maximum: 30 years or imprisonment for life and 15 strokes
Minimum: 20 years and 15 strokes
• more than 1,000 grams

With so much at stake, I connected with R through e-mail and asked him a few questions about the whole saga.

This was what the founder of skinx had to say:

Hey Bumble Scoop, glad to be here, thank you for reaching out to give us the opportunity to clarify the situation and tell our side of the story, and to also share our experience as a new business startup going through something like this.

Starting skinx was a new and exciting endeavor for us. We set out to be the go-to destination for quality products, and where people can find answers to their beauty questions, all while enjoying a level of service our competition can never offer. But never in a million years would we have expected that we would unknowingly import “drugs” into the country.

What happened basically was that we purchased a cosmetic product from a retailer in the USA which contained a banned substance in Singapore – cannabis. While, yes, there will be people who have said, “oh how can you not know, the product name is Kush High Volume Mascara!”, in this situation it really requires a little context and background to how this product was chosen to be purchased by us.

While I (and probably every Singaporean) am fully aware that Cannabis is illegal, never in my imagination would I have thought that it’ll be used in a cosmetic product.

We brought on Milk Makeup in early October after customer recommendations – we mainly bought their popular highlighters and skincare products. When they launched their best-sellers set of 7 products, we snapped them up as we thought it was a good opportunity, and our customers would definitely love it. However, out of the 7 products in the set, we (at that point) didn’t carry only 1 – the Kush High Volume Mascara. It’s our general business philosophy to offer as much range as possible within a brand, to give consumers as much choice as possible, so we then purchased the mascara at a whim to offer separately what was already in the sets.

We acknowledge that we jumped the gun in this business decision. Plus, we don’t actively screen for controlled substances – because we have never expected nor considered that cosmetics would contain drugs in the first place!

At first when we received the call, we were surprised and confused as to why Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers were at the store. When they informed us that the product contained controlled substances, our immediate reaction was to promptly comply with all the requests of the officers. However, after all the products were seized and a statement was taken, we were slightly amused at the whole thing.

While we (and probably every Singaporean) are fully aware that cannabis is illegal, never in our imagination did we think that it’ll come in a cosmetics product. We learned from our case officer that cannabis oil and hemp-derived ingredients exist in many other everyday products such as shampoo and snacks – more common than people may have thought.

What’s more amusing is that someone out there managed to find our product and contacted the authorities over it. Because, in the grand scheme of things, it does seem rather trivial that a makeup product is being reported to, and seized by, the authorities. However, we do respect the rule of law and the officers who are doing their jobs, and accept full responsibility for the situation.

From a business standpoint, us being a young and small startup, it’s great to know that consumers are finding our products online. We hope we can turn this whole situation around and make something positive out of it. We’re fortunate to have gone through this learning lesson sooner rather than later in our business journey.

What’s next for skinx?

skinx has cooperated with CNB to provide the necessary information and documents with regards to the import and sale of the product. The CNB officers have since collected samples of the Kush Mascara from skinx to carry out lab tests which will take at least a few months. In the meantime, all Milk Makeup products will not be available for purchase.

When it comes to purchasing makeup and skincare products, it is always a good habit to check the full ingredients list to be sure about what you are really putting on your face. This also serves as a reminder to all retailers to examine the products that they are bringing in as Singapore is, after all, known to have strict laws.

Update: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States just released a statement today to legalise the use of hemp-derived products as a drug for human or animal, with the condition that it has been “approved by the FDA for its intended use before it may be introduced into interstate commerce”. Furthermore, in June 2018, the FDA had already approved a drug, Epidiolex, that contains cannabis-derived CBD to treat seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

Which begs the question:
Is Singapore missing out on these medical benefits by banning the import and use of all cannabis-derived substances (more specifically, non-psychoactive ones)? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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