RMI ramps up betel nut action

Betel nut, leaves and cigarettes. Missing is the lime powder that is added to this combination of chewable items. Photo: Hilary Hosia.
Betel nut, leaves and cigarettes. Missing is the lime powder that is added to this combination of chewable items. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

The first prosecution of a business for alleged illegal sales of betel nut in Majuro was filed in District Court last Friday as part of a wider effort by the RMI Attorney General’s office to tackle the betel nut situation in the country.

The District Court case was filed by Assistant Attorney General Joe Lomae, who is also heading a newly established betel nut task force.

Tien Yan Peng dba Han Store near MIHS in Rita was charged with one count of “unlawful selling and distribution of betel nut” by Lomae. The charge is based on a Majuro Atoll Local Government police team that was passing by the store December 14 and saw a group of students outside of Han store, according to an affidavit by MALGov Criminal Investigation Division Officer Loma Dribo. When they stopped to check the group, one of the students fled, while the police managed to talk with another student who was holding a half piece of betel nut with lime powder; the other half was on the ground with a piece of cigarette, Dribo said. The student said he purchased the betel nut from Han Store, which they were standing outside of at the time. The other student, from Majuro Middle School, was later questioned and confirmed that he had bought betel nut from the same store, said the police.

The RMI law on betel nut allows importation for personal consumption but not for sale.

Assistant AG Lomae told the Journal that the AG’s office “will commence prosecution cases against illegal sellers of betel nut around Majuro or elsewhere within the jurisdiction and that the public, including the businesses who continue to violate this law, know and be aware that our work is moving forward.”

Attorney General Bernard Adiniwin said there is a newly created task force on betel nut that includes several RMI agencies, including Marshall Islands Police Department, MALGov police, Post Office, Quarantine Office, Customs and the RMI EPA. Lomae, who heads the task force, said it is also working to include Ports Authority and United Airlines in the task force.  

The task force held its second meeting last Friday to go over some “plans we have to discuss various ways to better enforce the betel nut (law),” said Lomae. 

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