U.N. chief calls for drug law reform

The U.N.'s Resident Coordinator, Simona Marinescu, has called for a health-based approach to drug policy that would prioritise treatment for those afflicted with addiction instead of an emphasis on stricter laws. 

The comments come after a recent drug bust, claimed by the Ministry of Customs and revenue to be the largest in Samoa's history, uncovered an estimated 1.4 kilograms of methamphetamine.

That prompted Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, to say he would review the nation's approach to drug laws, something which followed calls in Parliament by M.P., Fa'aulusau Rosa Duffy-Stowers, for harsher prison sentences. 

Writing exclusively for today's Samoa Observer Ms. Marinescu acknowledges the potential for drugs to cause social and physical harms, pointing to such examples as the United States' opioid epidemic. 

But she says that the right approach to drug policy does not lie in increasing punitive measures for those caught. 

"We must resist the urge to increase legal penalties," she says. 

"We should be decriminalizing drug use and possession."

"Drugs are a serious health and social issue, not a moral one. Reducing consumption requires a health and socially focused response, not moral panic. 

"This must include carefully thought-out laws that emphasize prevention, education and harm reduction. We need properly funded community-based support services that help and protect vulnerable people, and assist them in escaping degrading and difficult circumstances."

Ms. Marinescu's opinion is in line with the United Nations but also several countries worldwide, particularly Portugal, Switzerland and American states which have moved towards decriminalising the possession of drugs. 

She argues that doing so is not an endorsement of drug use but an example of evidence-based policy, arguing that the global war on drugs has unsuccessfully sought to stamp out supply for 50 years. 

The United Nation head's view contrasts sharply with that advocated for earlier this month by Fa'aulusau who said prison sentences were the only deterrent to drug crime. 

“[This is] a suggestion to the Minister [of Police] if the laws can be reviewed, in regards to penalties for those involved in crimes pertaining to illegal substances,” she said. “To put the penalty very high; like other countries, the criminals are sentenced to life imprisonment when it comes to these illegal drugs. It will show the importance this [country] places on the safety of our children.”

The national debate follows several recent raids on drugs, including armed raids executed by the Police in the village of Faleatiu.

Most recently Police last week arrested a customs official in connection with the seizure of an estimated 900 grams of methamphetamine. The official has been charged but a court date has not been announced.

It is known if the man is connected to an earlier interception, which was linked to the same shipping container as the second: a December investigation that unearthed 500 grams of methamphetamine and marijuana.

The street value of drugs seized in both raids, according to Police, was $500,000 each. 


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