Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Ganja circus at sea

Published:Friday | January 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM


On December 11 last year, it is alleged that a Jamaican vessel was intercepted by the United States Coastguard 125 miles off the coast of Jamaica. The vessel was searched by the coastguard, who then informed the Jamaican authorities that 916 pounds of ganja was found onboard.

The four men onboard were held at sea for two days while arran-gements were being made between the US Coastguard and Jamaican law-enforcement agents. The boat and the four men were escorted into Jamaican waters by the US Coastguard, and, on arriving in Jamaica on December 14, 2014, three of the men were handed over to our transnational narcotics police.

Second, the US Coastguard handed over 10 pounds of the confiscated ganja to Jamaican narcotics police and left with 906 pounds, along with the fourth apprehended man, who is said to be from St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Section 21 of the Maritime Drug Trafficking (Suppression) Act makes it clear that any Jamaican vessel found outside our territorial waters with prohibited drugs aboard shall be treated as being found within the jurisdiction of Jamaica, and the offence may be tried in any court in Jamaica, as if the offence was committed within our borders.

The Maritime Drug Trafficking (Suppression) Act, with its accom-panying treaty, permits the United States Coastguard to act on our behalf, to take Jamaican nationals found aboard a vessel with drugs, and hand over the crew, boat, and drugs to our law-enforcement agents. Section 20 (2) of the said maritime law permits our minister of national security - where a treaty state having found drugs at sea and would normally take it into their jurisdiction for trial - to waive Jamaica's right to enforce our domestic laws over the vessel, men aboard, and the illicit drugs found seaward of Jamaica's territorial waters. No such waiver was granted to the US Coastguard in the December 2014 case. The case was, therefore, entirely ours for prosecution.

In the Half-Way Tree Resident Magistrate's Court on January 16, 2015, the prosecution sought to have the men plead guilty to possession of the 916 pounds of ganja, 906 pounds of which was "taken" by the US Coastguard! The written advice of the DPP (with whom I agree) was that the Jamaican authorities were, in the unhappy circumstances, constrained to act on 10 pounds only. One further issue is left unresolved: Why did the US Coastguard leave with a non-national over whom we had total jurisdiction?

This case has exposed a very serious breach of our sovereignty. I call upon the relevant minister to investigate this most embarrassing situation. How could a treaty state dictate the handling of our case and unilaterally remove 906 pounds of ganja and a suspect from our jurisdiction, when we gave no waiver? The matter was to be wholly prosecuted here in the absence of a waiver.

Unanswered Questions

Furthermore, have we confirmed the destination of the 906 pounds of ganja? Let us not forget that ganja is legal in several states of the US for medicinal use. This leaves a lot of unanswered questions regarding the bona fides of our treaty partner in the fight against ganja. Is the US policing its own nationals who are growing and supplying the sellers of medicinal ganja in the United States? Is the policing of our waters by the US Coastguard - which has stepped up in the past six months - designed to protect American domestic ganja growers?

This is the natural fallout when the weak enter into a treaty with the mighty. It is the latter that dictates the terms, and can effectively break the rules of the game, while the weak dare not protest the loss of 906 pounds of ganja found within their jurisdiction and the unauthorised removal of a suspect found aboard. Perhaps, as George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm:

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Bert Samuels is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and bert.samuels@gmail.com.