CRYSTAL METH GROWING CONCERN IN AMERICAN SAMOA

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Drug known as ‘ice’ considered dangerous drug problem

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Nov. 23, 2009) - A former prosecutor suggests that the government should focus attention on a more dangerous drug problem in the territory dealing with crystal methamphetamine, which the local Department of Homeland Security (ASDHS) agrees is a serious issue faced by American Samoa.

There have been several cases coming through the court dealing with methamphetamine, or ice, and former Assistant Attorney General Lisa Teesch-Maguire became the main prosecutor for these cases, until she resigned two weeks ago, due to threats against her life.

When asked about drug cases and problems in the territory during her tenure, Teesch-Maguire said via e-mail from the mainland that American Samoa’s law when it comes to marijuana is "ridiculous" but "I think that there is always room for improvement."

Local drug laws enacted in 1999, via a bill that originated from the Senate and spearheaded at the time by Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli— a former police commissioner— handed down what is considered the strictest drug law in the nation.

At the time, Galeai, who held the Moaali’itele title during his first tenure as senator in 1999, pushed the measure in an effort to combat drug trafficking and to prevent the influx of all types of illegal drugs in the territory.

Current statute states that a person found in possession of a controlled substance is guilty of a class D felony for the first offense, which is punishable by 5 years in jail and a 5,000 tala [US$2,000] fine or both. The penalties increase if the offense is re-committed by the same person, and the penalties are mandatory.

This law also applies to marijuana, even the smallest amount. However, there have been a handful of cases involving travelers from the U.S. caught with small amounts of marijuana, who have been imposed only the fine, and then required to leave the territory on the next flight out.

The latest case was last week Thursday when Glenn Gurr, who arrived here from Utah to visit his family, was fined 5,000 tala [US$2,000] for possession of marijuana and was told to leave the territory by this past weekend, under a plea agreement with the government.

Teesch-Maguire told Samoa News that she believes a simple marijuana possession should be a misdemeanor or infraction, and the Territory should not waste resources prosecuting minor marijuana possession.

She says the Territorial Correction Facility is over-crowded and TCF should make room for violent offenders.

"Clearly, there is a much more dangerous methamphetamine problem in the Territory and the Territory needs to eradicate it before it gets out of control," she said. "Methamphetamine is a horrible drug, and generally results in dangerous violent crime, burglaries, and theft."

When asked for comments, ASDHS director Mike Sala told Samoa News on Friday that he agrees that there is a methamphetamine problem in the territory, adding that there have been several cases that have come before the court and the latest was just last week.

Sala, however, decline to comment further but points to a 2006 OTICIDE report to then Senate President Lolo M. Moliga regarding the drug problem in the territory in which methamphetamine was cited as a growing problem.

"...over the last two decades other drugs such as cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine (or ice) have been introduced in the local market," said the OTICIDE 2006 report. "Although cocaine and heroine are not prevalent, ice has remained consistent and is presently the ‘drug of choice’ along with marijuana."

While many local law enforcement officers— including customs officers— are truly honest in doing their jobs, Teesch-Maguire says she is concerned about those individuals paid off by drug dealers "to look the other way."

Teesch-Maguire says there are good police officers working in the Vice and Narcotics unit of the Department of Public Safety, "but it is a dangerous job, as drug dealers generally have guns, and the police officers don’t. This presents a very serious problem."

"Clearly, the police...need to take painstaking efforts to protect the evidence room and any drug evidence they collect," she said. "Also, inmates are dealing drugs out of the TCF [and] this needs to stop."

"Most importantly the Territory needs to invest in education about the dangers of Methamphetamine, and needs to invest in drug and alcohol treatment for drug addicts, who will never be able to reform without serious treatment efforts," she added.

There is no drug treatment center in the territory.

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