Many illegal drugs have important medicinal uses.
Opium is the only legal drug that is allowed under Samoa’s Narcotic Act. It is classified as a Class B narcotic together with marijuana and it’s considered an illegal drug.
Under section 10 of the Act, it prohibits importing prepared opium into Samoa unless a license has been granted by the Ministry of Health Chief Executive Officer.
This is according to the Samoa Law Reform Commission (S.L.R.C) report on the review of the Narcotics Act 1967 released last week. In 2015, the S.L.R.C received a term of reference from the Office of the Attorney General noting concerns that the current Act is outdated.
The S.L.R.C report says the Narcotics Act does not expressly provide for the situations in which members of the public can apply for illegal drugs to be used for medicinal purposes.
“However, this mechanism does exist in practice and can be utilized if the prescribing physician deems it necessary to request the particular drug, particularly opium.
“This system has been rarely utilised in Samoa.
“Conversely, overseas jurisdictions such as New Zealand and Australia utilize this option more routinely and have concrete mechanisms in place to facilitate these applications.”
According to the report, Opium is used to produce morphine and codeine and is commonly used for pain relief.
“In New Zealand, methadone is also used in drug treatment. Many other drugs are used in tranquillisers, sedatives, stimulants and antipsychotics.
“Aside from medicinal opium, the Narcotics Act is silent on situations where an illegal drug can be requested for medicinal purposes.” The Narcotics Act only provides for the supply of opium by the C.E.O of Ministry of Health to registered persons already addicted to the quasi medicinal use of opium before the Act was passed.
The Act provides that the C.E.O may supply a certain quantity of medicinal opium to a person on the register whom he/she thinks fit to be supplied thereof.
“Accordingly, the conditions in which a person in Samoa can be prescribed opium are incredibly limited, as they are only provided to persons on the register.
“Opium is classified as a Class B narcotic together with marijuana thus it is considered an illegal drug, and section 10 prohibits importing prepared opium into Samoa unless a licence has been granted by the CEO. “On the other hand, opium can be used for medicinal purposes if it has undergone the processes necessary to adapt it for medicinal use.”
The SLRC report also points to other medicinal drugs, there is scope under the Narcotics Regulation 1967 for an approved licensee to prescribe drugs, for example medicinal marijuana. “Preliminary consultations with MoH revealed that patients have requested medicinal drugs from their doctors. “There has only been one request for medicinal marijuana in 2015 however. “This request involved a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer. “She requested the supply of medicinal marijuana (cannabis oil) for pain relief.”
When a request is filed the MoH must submit the application to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) for approval. The MoH will find an importer and apply for a licence from the INCB to allow for the import of narcotics.
“Once the licence is approved, the drug is then imported for medicinal use in quantities specified by the treating physician. These licences can only be used in controlled situations and are valid for 3 months only,” says the SLRC report.
According to MoH, the supply of opium and other medicinal drugs is rare in Samoa. However, once people are aware of this option for pain relief, MoH anticipates more requests of this nature in future, says the report.
According to the report the Narcotics Act provides for situations – albeit limited in scope – in which medicinal opium can be prescribed.
“In order to assess the ways in which Samoa can move forward with respect to this issue, the Commission has identified relevant questions for public submissions.
COMPARABLE JURISDICTIONS- NEW ZEALAND
In New Zealand, in order for controlled drugs like cannabis to be used for medicinal purposes, it must meet the same criteria and testing processes as any other medicine. Recent changes to the New Zealand regulations in 2017 made the process for prescribing non-pharmaceutical, cannabis-based products more accessible where approval was delegated to the New Zealand Ministry of Health and no longer with the Minister.
In 2016, Australia’s federal parliament passed amendments to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 (Commonwealth) to allow controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes through a single national licensing scheme.
The Commonwealth now oversees all regulatory aspects of the cultivation of medicinal cannabis through one national scheme as opposed to eight separate jurisdictions, which arguably helps speed up the legislative process and access to medicinal cannabis products as well.
Some Australian states have implemented their own alterations in anticipation of proposed reforms at the federal level.
Queensland recently passed the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 requiring the Director General of Queensland Health’s approval for a patient’s access to medicinal cannabis, says the SLRC report.
The United Kingdom takes a slightly different approach, drugs classified under the United Kingdom’s Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 are deemed to have no therapeutic value and therefore cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed. These drugs include ecstasy, LSD and cannabis. However, the pharmaceutical cannabis based medicine Sativex is accessible to sufferers of a chronic condition known as multiple sclerosis and is at the discretion of the prescribing doctor.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
In the United States, more than 15 States have legalised medicinal cannabis. Four States have even legalised cannabis both recreationally and medicinally.