By Simona Marinescu / United Nations Samoa

Earlier this month, and in December 2020 the government conducted operations that resulted in the confiscation of a total of 1,400 grams of methamphetamine at the border, smuggled from the US. The law enforcement officials (from the Ministry of Customs and Revenue and the Ministry of Police and Prisons) that intercepted these drugs deserve congratulations for their professionalism and skill. Meth is destructive and harmful - and it is good to see this potential threat removed from the community.

As small as this bust is by global standards, 1,400 grams in a couple of months is a record for Samoa (there were only two convictions for methamphetamine possession in Samoa in 2017). Perhaps it is inevitable that we will see an increase in seizures. As COVID-19 ravishes the economy and exacerbates inequality, some may look to less than legal means to supplement their dwindling incomes, and drug use is known to increase in communities facing economic hardship. Governments need to work to reduce drug consumption – especially with respect to more harmful substances like meth and opioids, which have devastated poor communities around the world. For example, there were more than 67,000 overdose deaths in the US alone in 2018. Thankfully, so far, Samoa has avoided this degree of harm.

But while it is sometimes tempting to “crack down” (no pun intended) in the face of an emerging perceived threat, we must resist the urge to increase legal penalties. 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. Stopping drug use will not be achieved through hastily drafted legislation that further criminalizes addiction. By discouraging the demand for drugs, we can actually be more effective in tackling drug trafficking and putting an end to the human suffering caused by increased consumption.