May 2, 2008
Drug penalties stiffened

Magistrates have been given more teeth to bite into convicted drug traffickers, and Senator Saboto Caesar has hailed the amended Drug (Prevention of Misuse) Bill as an added deterrent to the lure of a life of drug trafficking.{{more}}

On Tuesday, the Bill, which sees the maximum penalty for a summary class A (Cocaine and Morphine) and class B (marijuana) drug offence move from 3 years and $100,000 to 7 years and $500,000, was passed.

The same offences, which carried a maximum penalty of 14 years and $200,000 when tried in the High Court, have had the penalty in the High Court increased to a maximum of 25 years and $1.5 million.

When Senator Caesar made what was his maiden contribution in the House, he said that as the stiffer penalties serve as a deterrent to young people who are lured into the illegal drug trade, it is important to see the issue in a larger national and social context.

Senator Caesar, who was appointed a government Senator only a few weeks ago, said that this nation faces many battles in the future and all hands are needed to address these “vexing problems.”

He, however, called on the other community-based orgainsations to do their part to help keep the youths on the right pathway.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker called the new penalties timely and necessary.

“For too long, drug dealers have been virtual bullies in our communities,” Sir Louis said.

“We must show these people that crime does not pay,” he added.

Earlier, as he piloted the Bill, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the same way Magistrates were given greater powers to deal with gun related offences, so, too, their powers must be enhanced when dealing with drug cases.

He noted that the nature of the drug trade here has changed continually since the original drug bill was passed in 1988. He noted that the drug hauls are becoming bigger, and are much more sophisticated in nature.

“When you are dealing with bigger drug hauls, you need to have magistrates having more powers, greater powers to impose greater penalties,” he said.

Dr Gonsalves, however, noted that with the sentencing guidelines in place, persons that he described as “itinerant drug offenders” will not be affected by the new penalties.

He explained that the system is designed to have sentences handed down considering all the varying mitigating factors like whether it’s a first offence, the quantity of the drugs, the plea of the offender and such like.

Class C drug offences, which include less known and drug offences hardly ever prosecuted here, have also seen their penalties raised.

These penalties move from a 2-year and $75,000 maximum, to 6 years and $400,000 in the Magistrate’s Court, while in the High Court, the penalty moves from 14 years and $200,000 to 20 years and $1 million. (KJ)