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Marijuana in Chuuk

By Innocente I. Oneisom

June 1991 (MC #03) Alcohol & Drugs


This report, the outcome of a five-month study done in 1985, looks into the problem of marijuana on Chuuk. Because the objective of this study was exploratory--to gather as much information on marijuana as possible--we formulated three different questionnaires to canvass a wide sample of the population. One set of questionnaires was for habitual marijuana users, those who smoke now as well as those who regularly smoked in the past and have now given up the habit. Another set of questionnaires was for the non-users of marijuana, people who never smoke the material or those who tried it only once and have never picked it up again. The last set of questionnaires was for the dealers, those who make marijuana a source of income. If a person has ever at any time, even for a few days, sold marijuana, he was considered a dealer.

The respondents of the survey were picked randomly. There is no criteria for picking the subjects except that they be cooperative and willing to answer the questions asked of them. The study was done on the lagoon islanders, although some of the subjects were outer-islanders residing on Moen.

For a good part of the first month of the study, marijuana information was gathered from the government agencies dealing with illegal substance control. These agencies include the Public Safety Department, the Chuuk State Court, and the Chuuk State Legislature. During this time, information was also gathered based on observations and casual contacts with the Chuukese people.

I would like to thank two of the youth leaders in Chuuk who have been extremely helpful in conducting the survey. They are Destor Sony and Camerillo Akapito. I would also like to thank Risao Samuel for his great help in providing the information from our outer-island community on Moen. I also would like to express a word of appreciation to Dr. Don Rubinstein for their editorial suggestions on this paper.


Marijuana is best known to the people of Chuuk as maruo. It is interesting to note that marijuana, as a name, has a feminine ending, but maruo is a male name. It is sometimes referred to as the "different" cigarette. Marijuana is a pretty new item to the Chuukese people. Its newness and foreignness is evident in the many vocabulary words that the Chuukese use in association with marijuana. They include such words as "joint," "wrap," "tops," and "seeds."

It is said that marijuana was first introduced to Chuuk by a foreigner who resided on Nama Island towards the end of the 1960s. The person is reported to have had in his possession some marijuana seeds which he sowed and which later grew into healthy plants. By the early 1970s there was a small amount of marijuana filtering into Chuuk. The substance was brought in by students from Palau, Yap, and Saipan who were attending school in Chuuk. As early as 1973 marijuana seeds were brought in from Saipan by a sailor on one of the cargo ships. They were planted on one of the lagoon islands and grew to be extremely healthy plants. It was not until the late 1970s that marijuana invaded the islands in large quantity. With much improved means of communication and transportation, and the increased number of Chuukese leaving the islands for school, marijuana found new and effective means of entering the area.

Today marijuana, grown on every island in Chuuk Lagoon and smoked widely by Chuukese youth, is a common and well-known item. This is well illustrated in the following incident:

Three young boys were drinking coconuts by the road. On approaching them, I asked if I could have one. The youngest one, who was completely naked, probably about the age of five or six, readily offered me one. The other two kids were probably about ten or eleven. Just as the five-year old handed me the coconut and the machete, I smelled the odor of burning marijuana. I then asked how it was that I could smell marijuana. One of the older boys said that his friend, the other older boy, had just finished smoking some. Giggling, the four-year old said it was true. I turned to the younger kid and asked if he smoked. To that he said no. I then asked him if he knew what marijuana was. He quickly replied yes to the question, as though he could not believe i asked him that question. As if to prove his claim, he went on to say that it is like cigarettes which you smoke and then you get "stoned." I asked him what "stoned" meant. He responded by saying that it is when a person laughs and giggles all the time. He then ran off upon seeing that other people were approaching us.

This incident shows that even a five-year old knows what marijuana is and what it does. Yet, the child must have had some idea that what he was talking about was a bad thing, because he stopped what he was talking about and ran off as soon as other people began gathering.

Marijuana and the Law

The Chuuk State Government does not have its own laws and regulations regarding marijuana, or for that matter any illegal drugs or substances. There is a plan to enact legislation soon, according to a legal aid at the Chuuk State Legislature. The Chuuk State Government simply adopted the Federated States of Micronesia Criminal Code, formerly the old Trust Territory Code. It was enacted in 1980 as part of the FSM Code.

In this code it is specifically stated that possession and trafficking of marijuana is illegal. Possession of an ounce or less is punishable by a fine of not more than $50. To possess from an ounce up to a kilo, or 2.2 pounds, is punishable by imprisonment of not more than three months, a fine of $500 or less, or both. Possession of more than a kilo of marijuana is punishable by imprisonment of not more than a year, a fine of not more than $1000, or both. Possession of the same amount is presumed to constitute the crime of trafficking, because it is assumed that this quantity is too much for personal use. This is therefore punishable by imprisonment of not more than five years, a fine of not more than $5000, or both.

The records at Chuuk Public Safety Department indicate that marijuana is a crime that has been increasing yearly. Records show that the first reported case of marijuana took place on Moen late in 1978 when one plant was uprooted. In the following years, the total police raids recorded are:

1979 3 cases 
1980 8 cases 
1981 13 cases
1982 8 cases 
1983 not available
1984 36

This information is based on the individual police officers' daily reports, which unfortunately, yield different figures from the monthly reports. The daily reports do not mention whether the offenders were arrested or not. The monthly reports do. Regrettably, however, the monthly reports only cover 1983 and 1984. They show the following:

  Reported Cases Number Arrested
1983 30 26
1984 56 40

One valuable piece of information that the officers's daily report provides is the quantity of the confiscated substance. The officers' reports did not assign any cash value to the confiscated substance, but they did give the number of plants and weight of the substance. Based on the information given by the dealers and the quantity of the substance recorded in the daily police reports, we have calculated the estimated street value of the confiscated marijuana. According to the dealers, a mature plant (four to seven feet tall) when sold as a whole plant brings in an average of $250. A mature plant, according to our rough calculations, would produce twelve ounces of marijuana.

During the five years from 1979 to 1984--excluding 1983, for which there are no reports--about $105,000 worth of marijuana was confiscated. This is an average of $21,000 worth of marijuana per year.

None of the individuals arrested on possession or trafficking charges have ever been convicted and very few have even been brought to trial. The Clerk of Courts told me in response to my inquiry that as of July 1985 there has not been one marijuana case tried at the state level. According to a source associated closely with that department, however, there have been three cases that have reached the court system on the state level. One has been adjudicated and two are still pending. The one marijuana case that has gone through the court system reached the Supreme Court level on July 9, 1982. The offender was charged with trafficking and possession of a kilo or more marijuana on April 26, 1981. This was the only case of marijuana tried by the FSM Supreme Court in Chuuk. This particular case was dismissed on the grounds that the FSM Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction over the case.

Marijuana as a Source of Income

The study does not find enough evidence to assert that the Chuuk marijuana crop is being shipped or sold outside of Chuuk. Nonetheless, in the late 1970s and early 1980s marijuana was reportedly sold to the Marshall Islands. People say that the Marshall Islands crop lacks the extra "kick" of marijuana from Chuuk, or from Yap and Palau.

It seems that marijuana from Palau, Yap, and Saipan has been shipped into Chuuk since the 1970s. There are reports of two marijuana dealers who held responsible positions in the Chuuk government in 1976. At this time, the limited supply of marijuana in Chuuk was unable to meet the growing demand for the substance. Moreover, the marijuana imported from Palau and Saipan that these individuals were selling contained the extra "kick" the smokers were seeking. Consequently, the price was high--$2 per joint and $10 per plastic sandwich bag, later raised to $20 per bag as the demand increased. The Yap crop, which comes into Chuuk regularly, is reported to be just as strong as the Palau and Saipan crop. A former dealer tells that a plant would cost him between $50 and $150 in Yap. He would stuff a briefcase with marijuana and sell it, now wrapped into joints, in Chuuk and would bring in an average of $1000. This fellow is the only one in Chuuk who had a whole network of dealers. His dealers went around the islands of the lagoon, especially Moen, selling marijuana joints. In an effort to keep up the interest of his dealers, he gave a ten percent commission to each of them who sold 50 joints. The most successful dealers were also given a bonus--a plastic sandwich bag of marijuana weighing about an ounce for their own use. His business prospered from 1979 to 1982, when he finally joined the Mwichen Asor and so took a religious pledge to discontinue his business.

On the whole, marijuana as a business is done very poorly. Mostly, it is a family undertaking, not a professional one. Many of the dealers who cooperated with us in providing information sell marijuana on a part-time basis. Some do so for a year or two, and others for a couple months only. There are others, however, who have been fortunate enough to gain the publicity necessary to do well in the business.

It was about one o'clock in the afternoon on a payday Friday on Moen. I walked up to two young men wrapping joints of marijuana. I sat down by them and we talked while they went about their business. After talking about some unrelated topics, I asked them how much they made a week. One of them answered, "$80 a week." I commented that that was a lot of money. He smiled, and as if quickly embarrassed, he grabbed the marijuana and the zig-zag wrappers and stuffed them into his backpack. He stood up and told his friend that they would have to finish wrapping later on. They did not leave the area. Neither did I. I hung around, observing the transactions which began the minute the two young men walked into the open. Apparently, they already had wrapped a lot of marijuana joints and had stored them in the backpack. I sat back and counted 22 people buying marijuana joints at a dollar a joint in the one hour that I hung around the area. At least $20 was collected during this hour, with some of the 22 customers buying more than one joint each. These two young men are at it every day of the week except on weekends. This makes me question their claim that they make $80 a week; they seem to be doing much better business than that.

A marijuana dealer makes an average of $100 a week, dealers themselves claim in the questionnaires that were filled out by 15 marijuana dealers ranging in age from 17 to 32. Some of the dealers claim that they make more than $150 a week--a claim that is quite possible if the business is based on Moen. The dealers on the other lagoon islands say they make an average of $50 a week. These dealers either grow their own stuff or buy plants from others. These plants are purchased at $150 and up, and are then wrapped and sold as joints. It is estimated that these dealers bring in a profit of 100% to 200% on their product. All except one of the dealers claim that the marijuana business has helped them in covering the expenses of their daily needs. It has helped them in the purchasing of kerosene, canned goods, soap, mosquito coil, and cigarettes. Those that really do well in the business have been able to buy outboard engines, generators, tape recorders, and motor bikes.

Marijuana and the People

In the study I interviewed 121 people ranging from the age of 12 to 72. The breakdown of the interviewees is as follows:

  Males Females Total
Users 58 3 61
Non-users 21 23 44
Dealers 14 2 16

Twelve of the 44 non-users have tried the drug at some time or other. Although we can not give a number or percentage of people who have come in direct contact with marijuana, we can say with certainty that a great majority of the interviewees have had some contact with it. Not a single one of the interviewees expressed lack of knowledge of the drug.

Eighty percent of the interviewees believe that marijuana smoking produces certain side effects. These are, in order of the frequency with which people listed them: "craziness"; absent-mindedness; laziness; reproductive process impairment; physical handicap; over-eating; high blood pressure; damaged nerves; irritability; being lost in dreams; and affected lungs. "Craziness" is thought to be the most common side effect of marijuana smoking, as indicated by 22% of those interviewed (users and non-users only). In fact, this belief is cited as the main reason those who have given up smoking finally quit. It is also given as the reason that 16 of the 44 non-users of marijuana do not use the drug. In describing what they mean by "crazy," some of the interviewees have mentioned "keeping silent," "feeling abnormal about oneself," "visualizing things," and "being afraid of people." It might also be noted that several of the recorded Chuukese psychotics regularly use marijuana, according to a survey done on mental illness.

Another of the perceived side effects of marijuana is laziness. It is this that has caused some of the regular users to break the habit. Others, who continue to use marijuana, say they prefer taking the drug only at night when they are resting. This is especially true for the older members of the group who have families to take care of or who are responsible members of the community.

Interviewees claim that besides other substances like gasoline fumes and spray paint that are used to produce a "high," they know of other, stronger drugs. They mention cocaine, heroin, opium, hash, LSD, pills, and Speed. Five percent of those interviewed claimed that they have tried gasoline sniffing, and one individual expressed his preference for the gas fume's high over the marijuana high. Six percent of the interviewees have heard that heroin is used in Chuuk but have not tried it. There is one person who claims he has tried cocaine while in Chuuk. There are two others who have tried heroin and hash, but they did not say where they experimented with these drugs.

Marijuana is seen as the second most common problem of Chuukese youth, after drinking of alcoholic beverages. When the interviewees were asked whether they preferred alcoholic beverages or marijuana, 45% said they prefer taking both, 35% prefer alcoholic beverages, and 20% prefer taking marijuana. Most teenagers --about 70% of those interviewed--prefer marijuana over alcohol.

Although alcohol is very different from marijuana in many respects, the two drugs have at least one thing in common--they are used in a similar way. That is, they are consumed in the typical Pacific island consumption pattern. However much there is of the substance available, it must be consumed totally. Nearly half of the regular users of marijuana admit to following this consumption pattern in their own use. The quantity smoked can range from a single joint to a plant. In most cases, the users smoke in a group. In fact, one of the reasons given for smoking marijuana, especially for the first time, is peer pressure. All those interviewed who are now regular users admit that their initiation into marijuana smoking was never done alone, but in the presence of others.

The majority (67%) of the regular users said that they first smoked the substance to satisfy their curiosity about it. For most of the users this led to the regular consumption of the substance, for they have, in their own words, "liked the high," "gotten the feeling," "felt relaxed," "felt happy," and "found pleasure."


Marijuana is currently a widespread substance in Chuuk. It is not a native Chuukese crop, but first found its way into Chuuk in the late 1960s and became extremely widespread in the later 1970s. From 1979 to 1984 an annual average of $21,010 worth of marijuana was confiscated each year. For something as widespread and illegal as marijuana, one would expect to find records of many cases in the Government Judiciary system. Yet, it is surprising to find that there is only one recorded case in Chuuk's courts.

Although there is much buying and selling of marijuana on the local level, little, if any, of the Chuukese crop is sold outside Chuuk. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that Chuuk imports the substance from other areas of Micronesia. The marijuana business in Chuuk has not adopted a professional system, but it remains more of a family venture in which the family members cooperate in growing and selling the substance. The money that comes in is used to provide for the daily needs of the family.

More than half of the regular marijuana users first smoked the drug to test the substance that they had heard so much about. It is feared that the people who have heard of other substances besides marijuana might do the same with these other substances. The majority of the interviewees have heard of the other substances, but very few have actually tried them. This could be attributed to the very small influx of these substances up to the present. Many of the people interviewed believed that "craziness" was a side effect of marijuana smoking. This belief has led many of them to avoid the substance.



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