LEAVE VANUATU MARIJUANA GROWERS ALONE

Commentary

Stop the Drug War (DRCNet)

WASHINGTON – (Nov. 6) - A recent National Drug Squad raid on Malekula, part of the 80-island New Hebrides archipelago that makes up the country of Vanuatu, has led at least one member of parliament to say that harsh economic conditions justify the growing of marijuana by community members. In the raid in question, police rounded up 20 villagers and took them to jail in the capital, Port Vila. Police also seized 40 bags of freshly harvested marijuana.

In reaction to the raid, MP Donna Browny, who represents Malekula, told Radio New Zealand that people are justified in planting marijuana to earn money for their children's school fees when the copra price is down and the government has not found an alternative commodity to replace it. Browny urged leniency for the villagers, saying they planted pot instead of coconut trees because they needed the money.

Browny's is the first voice in opposition to the rising clamor from local law enforcement and some nonprofit groups in the Connecticut-sized archipelago of some 200,000 people. Vanuatu police took advantage of the annual Law Week last week to warn that marijuana growing and use is on the rise.

"Vanuatu is lucky, yet, because at this stage we haven't come across a case of hard drug consumption like cocaine or opium but with the current trend there is a risk," a drug squad spokesman told the audience at a cannabis awareness session, according to an account in the Vanuatu News.

The association of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Vanuatu, VANGO, was raising similar concerns a week earlier. Marijuana use is on the rise and so is use among young people, warned VANGO spokesman Henry Vira.

"Every week there is young people being arrested for the use of marijuana or possession and cultivation of the plant," he told Radio New Zealand.

The police want more resources for law enforcement. The NGOs want increased drug treatment and substance education.

The marijuana growers and smokers undoubtedly just want to be left alone.

Stop the Drug War (DRCNet) is a Washington, D.C.-based special interest group that advocates the legalization of marijuana and other prohibited drugs.

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