Pubdate: Fri, 20 Jun 2003
Source: Royal Gazette, The (Bermuda)
Copyright: 2003 The Royal Gazette Ltd.
Author: Matthew Taylor


Defence lawyers have blasted Bermuda's hard-line policy on slapping cruise 
ship passengers with $1,000 fines for importing tiny amounts of cannabis.

Groups of cruise ship passengers have contributed thousands of dollars to 
Government coffers this season - in Magistrates' Court yesterday eight of 
them paid out $9,000 in fines.

The Misuse of Drugs Act fixes the fine at $1,000 and/or a year in prison 
for summary convictions.

Defence lawyer Elizabeth Christopher said: "It's a waste of time. Why don't 
they go after some real crime?

"I think the resources involved in taking people to court show it isn't 
worth it.

"They should be let off with a warning.

"If we are not careful it will look like we are trying to extort a bit of 
extra money."

Fellow lawyer Patrick Doherty agreed the fine was looking more like a tax 
than a sentence.

He said Magistrates should be given more discretion to levy a lower penalty 
for small amounts obviously for personal use. He said: "Yes I think it is 
excessive charging them with the offence of importation.

"They should be sentenced as residents would for simple possession."

Asked how fines should be structured he said: "They are human beings.

"There is no formula where you say this is the right sentence.

"It should take into account personal circumstances and the potential of 
harm to Bermuda."

However he said tourists should not try the excuse they didn't know 
cannabis was illegal in Bermuda when they knew full well it was illegal in 
their own country.

Larry Mussenden said the cruise lines needed to make their passengers aware 
of the Island's hard-line on drugs so they didn't get into trouble once 
they got to Bermuda's territorial waters.

"We have identified the problem so we should try to stamp it out rather 
than continue on," he said.

He also said the advice sheet given to arrested Americans was inadequate as 
it didn't mention the right to a lawyer and the right to silence, two 
fundamentals of both the US constitution and Bermuda law.

Mr. Mussenden said: "I have personally requested the US Consul General 
address this matter."

Larry Scott said the whole process was anomalous and he said the cases 
should not go to court but instead Customs should levy an appropriate fine 
which would still go into Government's consolidated fund.

He backed legalising cannabis because it was becoming a real problem which 
undid the Island's efforts to attract tourists. "Soon the Minister will 
have to recruit tourists from churches," he said.

He said most visitors bought cannabis to smoke while out on the water and 
were not bent on bringing it into Bermuda.

"Leave these people alone.

"If they come in with five pounds of it then you are talking about 
supplying. That's different."

Mr. Scott said he found it ironic that US visitors were not locked up 
before their court appearances unlike locals and that the US Consul General 
put Bermudians caught here with a small amount of cannabis on their stop 
list and barred them from visiting the US forever.

However, as he called the fines levied against the cruise ship passengers 
"in accordance with the law", Acting Director of Public Prosecutions 
Kulandra Ratneser said those who chose to ignore Bermuda's laws will 
continue to pay.

"Before passengers arrive on the Island, there is sufficient information on 
the boat which says that drugs are not allowed in Bermuda. "If they 
knowingly ignore the law, they have to pay the price," he said.

In response to Mr. Doherty's assertion that magistrates should be given 
more power to levy lower penalties, Mr. Ratneser said: "That's a 
legislative matter. If Parliament says that's the law, then that's what it is.

"There's nothing anyone can do. Not the Police or even the prosecutors. 
They don't make the law, they enforce it."
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