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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

It’s been a Best of Times, Worst of Times few days for those responsible for stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the Island.

A major shipment of heroin with an estimated street value of $1 million was seized at the weekend following what was evidently a lengthy and painstaking police investigation.

Presumably the intelligence gathered during the course of this probe will pay rich dividends in terms of identifying and successfully prosecuting the traffickers and financiers driving this deadly trade.

No longer the sole purview of the stereotypical glassy-eyed junkie, heroin has enjoyed a worrying rise in popularity in Bermuda in recent years. Despite the well-known dangers associated with even its casual use, it’s become something of a party drug among Millennials.

And the consequences of young people’s glamorisation of a drug which was once a synonym for human misery have been lethal in more than a few instances.

Any number of young Bermudians’ lives have now been snuffed out as a result of accidental overdoses.

Others have had their souls hijacked, their potential destroyed, and been reduced to self-destructive and criminal behaviour to maintain this most addictive of habits.

The interdiction of what was clearly a very large amount of heroin before it reached the streets constitutes an unambiguous victory in Bermuda’s war on drugs and the police service is to be congratulated for its sterling efforts.

However, the flipside of this triumph is a continuing overreliance on the part of police and customs officers on tactics which turn Bermuda’s visitors into collateral damage in this open-ended conflict.

Surely the time has long since passed when both vacationers and Bermuda residents found in possession of small amounts of cannabis intended for personal use can be treated as non-combatants.

The real enemy, after all, should not be the recreational marijuana user when those profiting mightily from upending (or actually ending) young lives with heroin and other hard drugs continue to operate in our midst with apparent impunity.

At his widely-read website American maritime lawyer Jim Walker this week highlighted what he calls Bermuda’s “shakedown” policy against cruise ship passengers who favour unwinding with a joint or two in the evening rather than a beer or a glass of wine.

He simultaneously seized on the failure of Bermuda authorities to regularly intercept drug contraband which is likely being smuggled into the Island aboard these same vessels.

And he also pointed to Bermuda’s lack of consistency when it comes to targeting those he rightly describes as the “real criminals” to be found on board cruise boats calling at the Island, a category which includes everything from rapists to professional conmen.

Mr Walker’s characterisation of the busting of cruise passengers for tiny quantities of pot as a money-making scheme is a difficult one to argue with: vacationers will, of course, eagerly pay the standard $500 fine rather than risk what could be a three month prison term in a foreign country.

The minimal revenues raised don’t begin to compensate for the negative publicity Bermuda receives as a consequence of this sledgehammer-to-a-nut approach at websites like Mr Walker’s and on social media and in print.

At a time when Bermuda is making genuine efforts to revitalise its tourism product, such a heavy-handed policy — entirely lacking in any sense of proportionality — is hardly going to enhance our reputation as a relaxing destination among potential visitors.

Of course police and customs officials only enforce the Island’s laws, they don’t make (or unmake) them. So it’s incumbent on Bermuda’s legislators to finally stir themselves from their customary inactivity on this front and to take the necessary (and long overdue) action.

Law enforcement manpower, resources and intelligence could then be focused against importers with blood on their hands (and millions in illicit profits in their bank accounts which could be used on drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes).

And this would be a Best of Times outcome for Bermuda with no downside whatsoever.