Govt looks to revise drug punishments
A debate on Bermuda’s drugs laws could take place soon as Government presses forward with plans to adjust punishments for certain substances, according to Attorney General Kim Wilson.
And Senator Wilson said she has directed cautioning guidelines be issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, so people caught with small amounts of cannabis for personal use might not be convicted.
The Justice Minister was speaking after Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner was heavily criticised in the American travel media for fining a number of cruise passengers caught with cannabis in their rooms.
Sen Wilson said her Ministry has reviewed Bermuda’s drugs legislation and recently made a presentation to Cabinet; she now anticipates a wider discussion.
She told The Royal Gazette: “The Throne Speech of 2011 specifically provided for the establishment of a new classification of sanctions for different types of drugs.
“This naturally included a thorough review of the existing laws in Bermuda relating to drug offences, particularly as it relates to possession of amounts of cannabis for personal use.
“I can confirm that our review and research has recently been presented for discussion and consideration to the Cabinet. I anticipate that we will see a wider discussion of the topic in the not too distant future.
“Pursuant to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 2006, as Minister of Justice, I have directed that the Director of Prosecutions issue cautioning guidelines for certain offences including as relates to possession of a small quantity of marijuana consistent with personal consumption.
“My responsibilities as Minister makes it incumbent upon me to stress to the public that the law as it stands remains the law and that as such there is no immunity from prosecution for breaking it.
“My Government’s policies as relates to this issue seeks to strike the right balance between the three dimensions of law enforcement; ensuring that our prisons are not overwhelmed with unnecessary incarcerations; and protecting our people from ruined lives due to avoidable criminalisation.
“We are also not unmindful of the personal health risks and social damage of substance abuse no matter how small the quantity and are intent in steering young people especially, away from that course.”
The Progressive Labour Party has previously pledged to introduce a new sentencing framework for young people caught with small amounts of drugs, amid complaints many find themselves on the stop list and unable to pursue education in the United States.
Director of Public Prosecutions Rory Field stated in 2010 people caught possessing small amounts of cannabis can now be offered police cautions to spare them a conviction.
A string of American tourists have appeared in Magistrates’ Court in recent weeks, after Customs officers discovered cannabis in their cabins.
One man, Robert Gimach, was warned he could face a fine of up to $500,000 for possessing a cannabis pipe, before Mr Warner eventually fined him $4,000.
On Tuesday, lawyer Jim Walker wrote in Cruise Law News: “Newspapers in Bermuda are reporting on what is routine practice in Bermuda when a cruise ship arrives from the US.
“Customs officers take a sniffer dog aboard and find a few joints of pot in a passenger’s cabin.”
Mr Walker claimed to have written more than a dozen articles about such incidents, adding: “Magistrate Warner has fined every cruise passenger who has stood before him with a little reefer found on the cruise ship. No need for probable cause or a search warrant. American potheads are easy money.
“Very strange revenue collection business going on in Bermuda and a real double standard as well.”
On Monday last week, he wrote: “If you are a stoner who can’t help stashing a couple joints of ganja in your socks to smoke sailing from New York to Bermuda, chances are you have a good chance of meeting Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner.
“You see, Magistrate Warner is a criminal judge in Bermuda’s capital of Hamilton who helps the Customs officers raise revenue for the little island in the middle of the Atlantic by fining cruise passengers who have small amounts of marijuana in their cabins on the cruise ships.”
A spokesman for HM Customs said: “HM Customs role is the interdiction of uncustomed goods entering Bermuda.
“Once items are interdicted they are handed over to the police who either issue a caution or investigate the circumstances and present the facts to the DPP for determination whether charges will be filed.
“Should the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions determine that individuals will only be cautioned for defined amounts we would have no objection.”
Mr Warner said his judicial code of conduct prevents him commenting on his courtroom decisions, but Chief Justice Ian Kawaley said: “I cannot make any comment on individual cases as they may be subject to appeal.
“In general terms, the articles appear to raise questions of law enforcement and prosecution policy which fall beyond the remit of the courts.”
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