Narcotics Act outdated, Law Commission says

The Samoa Law Reform Commission has called the Samoa Narcotics Act 1967 to be overhauled, noting that it’s outdated. 

This was revealed in their recent drugs reform final report released in December last year. 

The 163-page report says that Samoa’s illegal drugs environment is vastly different from that which existed in 1967. 

“It was enacted to suit the circumstances at that time. Samoa’s Narcotics Act is 50 years old,” the report said.  

“It has only been amended twice. Other countries like New Zealand and N.S.W. have enacted more modern legislation regulating illegal drugs. 

“Public submissions revealed serious social and economic harms affecting Samoan communities. 

“The Commission notes that the causes of these social and economic issues stem from the lack of enforcement by the relevant authorities due to lack of resources and manpower, corruption practices by the relevant authorities, poverty, lack of employment and inadequate penalties to punish drug offenders, to name a few.” 

The Commission supports the majority view that Samoa’s Narcotics Act is outdated and does not adequately address the current and emerging issues in Samoa. 

Therefore to meet the term of reference, the Commission is of the view that Samoa’s Narcotics Act should be completely overhauled and replaced with a new and updated framework which is relevant and suitable to the current needs of Samoa (new drugs framework). 

According to the report, since its enactment in 1967, Samoa’s Narcotics Act has only been amended twice in 2006 and 2009 respectively. 

“Amendments to the law were inadequate to address the prevalence of drug-related issues in Samoa and the new developments in the evolving drug environment. 

“For example, the rise of methamphetamine cases, the use of illegal drugs for medicinal purposes as well as the consideration of rehabilitation as a sentencing option. 

“Therefore, this review is necessary and timely to ensure that it reflects current developments around issues relating to illegal drugs, and to consider and incorporate regulatory provisions from similar overseas jurisdictions where appropriate in order to effectively curb drug-related issues for a safer Samoa.” 

This report considers specific issues relating to Samoa’s Narcotics Act that were raised in the Commissions Issues Paper and explores options for their reform. 

“While this report comprehensively considers provisions of Samoa’s Narcotics Act, it does not consider them all. 

“The Commission considers that the provisions not addressed or discussed in this report are not contentious at this time. 

“Thus the Commission recommends that such provisions should be retained, but redrafted in a logical order and in plain language. 

“This will make the law clearer and consistent with relevant legislation.” 

In moving forward, the S.L.R.C. has made recommendations throughout the report to update current provisions that are outdated and do not adequately serve the purpose of Samoa’s Narcotics Act. 

“Furthermore, the Commission has made recommendations suggesting for certain matters to be further clarified and be covered under Regulations instead of including them under a new drugs framework. 

“Accordingly, any changes made to the law would also mean changes to the current Narcotics Regulations 1967 (Samoa’s Narcotics Regulations) to ensure consistency.” 

For the most part, the Commission has also recommended that provisions from other legislations such as the Police Service Act 2009, Drugs Act 1967, Crimes Act 2013, Customs Act 2014, Evidence Act 2015, Community Justice Act 2008, and the Internal Affairs Act 1995 are adapted and adopted in any new drugs framework. 

“This is to achieve consistency and uniformity across all laws and matters relating to regulating illegal drugs in Samoa. 

“It is hoped that a more uniform framework will make the regulation of illegal drugs more effective, adequate, practical and efficient. 

“Also, the key players responsible for enforcing the law are better informed of the requirements, which are consistent, easier to understand and aim to increase efficiency. 

“Again, the Commission will be guided by key relevant agencies and the courts about the efficacy of doing so in some of the provisions.” 

Finally, the Commission has also identified a need for training on a new drugs framework for law enforcement agencies including Ministry of Police, Ministry of Health, and Customs among others to ensure that enforcement officers are up to date with the latest changes in legislation and familiar with rules governing their functions in regulating illegal drugs. 

“For example, the overlap of powers. The need for this training was illustrated in submissions received from both key stakeholders and the public indicating a lack of understanding of many parts of Samoa’s Narcotics Act by some members of the relevant agencies. 

“As such, some officers who have responsibilities under the law, do not effectively and efficiently utilise them or are uninformed with the provisions that regulate illegal drugs in Samoa, resulting in inadequate enforcement,” says the report. 

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