July 24, 2012
Fine the foreign drug smugglers

Tue, Jul 24. 2012

Over the last two weeks, four Vincentians have been nabbed while allegedly trying to smuggle marijuana into Barbados, while five of that nation’s citizens have been arrested here, reportedly for the same crime.

This month alone, Vincentians and Barbadian law enforcement officials have seized over a ton of cannabis, believed to have originated in St Vincent.{{more}}

The cache of drug confiscated by law enforcement authorities in both nations shows the risk that some persons are prepared to take, not only to cultivate the illegal plant, but also to move it across the region in the hope of making money.

One can only imagine the proportion of such transactions that succeeds, compared to those that are foiled by police.

There must be something in the drug trade — most likely the money — that attracts persons from all strata of society, social class and education.

Last year, a Vincentian pilot pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle marijuana into Barbados, an act that ruined his career, embarrassed our nation, his family and regional carrier LIAT and breached the trust such persons enjoy.

But interestingly, at his sentencing in Barbados, the court fined the pilot BD$250,000 (approx. EC$337,000) or jail time for attempting to smuggle BD$130,000 worth of marijuana into Bridgetown.

The money was paid.

It costs the state significant amounts of money to police the drug trade, especially with our large maritime space and rugged landscape.

Further, Vincentian taxpayers pay about EC$13,000 to keep someone in prison for one year.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is on record as saying that the state must hit criminals where it hurts the most: in their pockets.

But when our judiciary locks up drug smugglers without giving them the option of paying a fine, they are also hitting taxpayers and the central government where we can least afford, especially in these times.

It is for reasons like this that our judges and magistrates, after careful examination of the relevant facts and circumstances, should also consider imposing monetary fines on persons attempting to smuggle drugs out of or into our country, rather than letting jail time be the default penalty.

If persons are willing to risk their lives on a flimsy craft or in a shootout with cops on the high seas, it is reasonable to conclude that they might also be willing to pay to remain free after being nabbed while smuggling drugs.