The Ministry of Health has “always entertained” the idea of legalising marijuana for medical purposes in Samoa because there are cases that have been approved by the Narcotics Board.
However, there is “not enough” evidence indicating that marijuana can be extensively used as medicine.
That is the response of the Director of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri.
“It’s just hearsay and literally superficial evidence and like every other drug, there are pros and cons,” he told the Sunday Samoan.
He was responding to the call by Senior Lawyer, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, to legalize marijuana for medical treatment.
In her view, it will help Samoa’s economy through the export of medicinal marijuana, especially coconut oil and marijuana fuse.
She also believes this will help reduce the number of inmates housed at Tafa’igata Prison.
“Furthermore it will save costs to Samoa when all those imprisoned for possession of marijuana etc. are no longer fed in jail, no longer accommodated in jail and there are no more criminal offenses relating to marijuana,” she said.
“For health reasons, those with cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, cancer, depression and other health problems can be treated with marijuana.”
She told the Samoa Observer the government is wasting money and the Court’s time.
But Leausa said Samoa needs to be careful.
“Medical marijuana is for relief and yet other people use it to get high,” he said.
“Medical marijuana from a health’s perspective is any part of the marijuana plant which you use to treat health problems."
“And most people use it to get relief, not just to get high and that is the difference.”
In Samoa, the current law permits the legalising of a specific dosage.
“For narcotics such as marijuana, heroin or morphine, we take it case by case,” he said.
“The law has its acceptations, especially when it’s a matter of life and death and we look on the grounds that it does relieve pain especially with chronic pain."
“We prescribe for specialised cases, but we are not saying that we will prescribe for everyone. Now that is not allowed.”
He explained the process of how drugs or narcotics are used medically when necessary.
“Right now we treat cases individually, an assessment is conducted, then we need opinions from two doctors and we write to the Narcotics Board to approve the use.”
Leausa explained that the lengthy process is because this is drugs they are dealing with.
“For instance, like heroine, if you look at heroine all over the world, it’s one of the best analgesics, it’s freely available on the streets, but it’s illegal to have it in the hospital."
“Even the use of morphine, we have to be accountable for every single drop when used in the hospital."
“This is nothing new, this is the process and that is how we control the drugs and there have been cases in the past where doctors have been deregistered and incarcerated because of the abuse,” explained Leausa.
He then spoke of the pros and cons.
“If you smoke marijuana, it will irritate your lungs just like someone who smokes cigarettes."
“Although no study says that smoking marijuana will result in lung cancer."
“For example for Samoa, speaking hypothetically there is about 30 percent of people smoking marijuana, casually not socially, unlike the other 70 percent who are smoking (cigarettes) every day."
“Other issues that will occur is the indirect rate of your heart beat, they say when you intake marijuana, it’s up to three hours your heart rate will increase."
“So if someone who has problems with the rhythm of his heart rate, it might be a risk factor.”
The Director said there are States in America that have legalised cannabis use, but with conditions.
“Not in a sense where it’s freely distributed to anyone."
“Off island, if you are prescribed to use marijuana medically, you must have a medical card to show at border control.”
Leausa made it clear that this medical card is not valid in Samoa.
“We are an independent State and so these medical cards are not allowed here.”
He said a cancer patient from off island requested to grow marijuana at their residence for pain relief.
“It’s impossible for us to allow that."
“So we stick to what we can do and that is prescribe the medication and have it refilled.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has flatly rejected the call for marijuana to be legalised.