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American Samoa Drug Threat Assessment
Marijuana is the most widely abused illegal drug in American Samoa. However, its use does not pose the same problems to local authorities as methamphetamine.
According to the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, just over one-quarter of all youth in American Samoa have used marijuana at least once during their lifetime. This number is slightly more than half the national average of 47 percent. Although low by comparison with the U.S. national average, the level of marijuana use is disturbing to a society based on traditional Polynesian values and culture. Distributors and users barter marijuana for crystal methamphetamine and cocaine.
American Samoa officials do not yet report marijuana abuse statistics to Health and Human Services agencies.
Marijuana is widely available in American Samoa. Aside from local cultivators, much of the marijuana in American Samoa comes from the neighboring independent nation of Western Samoa. Recent seizures of marijuana caused prices to rise. A single joint of Western Samoan marijuana costs from $25 to $35. During the American Samoa fiscal year 2000 (July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000), territorial customs authorities confiscated over 10,000 pounds of marijuana in 22 seizures at the airport and ferry terminals.
Examples of violence associated with drug use or possession are relatively rare in American Samoa. A man reportedly on parole for a previous murder of a police officer was arrested in August 1999 after he tried to pull a gun on a local police officer. He was also charged with possession of illegal drugs (marijuana and methamphetamine) and the discharge of a firearm.
Territorial legislation passes in 1999 imposes harsh penalties for drug possession. First-time offenders receive a mandatory 5-year sentence without parole or probation upon conviction for one count of possession of marijuana. Well-publicized arrests are meant to deter potential offenders.
American Samoa authorities report that cannabis cultivation is a significant local problem. A depressed local economy, weakened even more by sugar plantation closings, increased the probability that some residents would engage in cannabis cultivation or the importation and distribution of marijuana. Most cannabis grown in the territory is for local consumption. Local authorities believe that many independent entrepreneurs cultivate cannabis and distribute marijuana on the islands.
Cannabis growers are adapting to law enforcement efforts. The growers plant crops in small patches in remote mountainous areas, which makes the plots difficult to locate and time-consuming to eradicate. Growers also use camouflage techniques to impede detection. American Samoa officials also report the presence of a hybrid plant that is denser and more difficult to detect from the air. Laws allowing forfeiture of private real estate prompted growers to plant cannabis on public lands, such as parks, to avoid such penalties.
Criminal groups, which law enforcement officials have not identified, use cargo vessels and commercial airlines to smuggle marijuana to American Samoa. In October 2000, local customs officials seized over 35 pounds of marijuana from the M/V Lady Naomi, a Western Samoa government-owned cargo vessel. The marijuana was compacted in five plastic bags, wrapped in duct tape, and stored inside large vinyl bags. In September 1999, officials seized several sandwich bags of marijuana from the same vessel. Over a 3-month period in 1998, customs agents intercepted 11 shipments of marijuana at the territory's airport and dock. Smugglers generally conceal marijuana inside shipments of taro plants, hide it in bundles of fine mats, or mix it with dry goods and food.
Local independent growers distribute marijuana, but tend to distribute the drug in their own areas. There is no information on the distribution of marijuana from Western Samoa or other extra-territorial sources.
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