The drug crisis in Tonga appears to be worsening with further drug charges relating to cannabis issued over the past few days.
A 35-year-old prisoner was arrested for having possession of 95.28 grams of cannabis whilst serving time in prison with the issue being brought to the police by the Tongan Prisons Department.
In a similar charge, a 54-year-old man was arrested for the cultivation of cannabis with 43 cannabis plants weighing a total of 45.08 grams seized from the man’s property.
These latest arrests only add to the scourge that is gripping the nation with drug related offences increasing by 206 per cent from 2018 to 2020 according to Tongan Police data.
On the issue, King Tupou VI of Tonga stated in an address to parliament that “our beloved country is no longer free of drugs”.
A reason for this according to the Organized Crime Index is that domestic use of cannabis has increased due to an influx from the United States.
The index also stated that allegedly there is domestic development of cannabis on remote Tongan Islands.
While cannabis may contribute to the drug issue, the underlying concern is with much harder drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine (meth).
In August, 14kgs or $2.2 million worth of cocaine washed up on the beaches of Vava’u while in September of this year, 30kgs of ice was found to have made its way from Tonga to New Zealand.
Worse than drug trafficking is the effect drugs are having on local Tongan communities and especially on youth.
Ofa Guttenbeil-Likilik of the Women and Children Crisis Centre told The Guardian that drugs are being marketed to children for all kinds of stresses they may have.
“We had a case of an attempted suicide, the boy was just 16, and we found out that methamphetamine was actually advertised to him to help him study for his exams but then he became addicted and started doing things that really shocked his family and it almost cost him his life.”
To combat this Tonga introduced new legislation in 2020 in which anyone caught with over 28 grams of meth can face a life sentence in prison or a fine of $1 million pa’anga while accomplices may also be charged.
Organisations like the Salvation Army offer counselling services for drug users however stated to The Guardian that they can’t keep up with the demand.
“We started out by hosting counselling sessions for drug users during the day, just two days a week but now with so many people being referred from the courts and the psychiatric ward, we’re now running every single day of the week, six hours a day.”