By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
PAY THE fine or do the time was a magistrate’s order to five Americans yesterday who pleaded guilty when charged with possession of dangerous drugs.
Magistrate Andrew Forbes of court no 8 chastised the cruise passengers who admitted to knowing before their arrest on Saturday, April 12, that possessing marijuana and cocaine in The Bahamas was illegal.
Kevin White, 28, of Leesburg, Florida was the first of the five to stand before the magistrate on the simple possession charge.
On the day in question, around 4:45pm, officers at the Central Police Station were contacted and invited to the Prince George Dock where they boarded the cruiseline called “Enchantment of the Sea”. It was here that officers spoke with the chief of security who handed over a package of suspected marijuana (1 gram) that had been found in White’s possession.
When the American was taken into custody and interviewed, he admitted that it was his drugs and he had intended to smoke it.
Magistrate Forbes asked the Floridian if he accepted the facts read by ASP Ercell Dorsett. “I accept,” he said.
“How much did you pay for the drugs?” the magistrate then asked.
“I brought it with me. I didn’t buy it here,” White admitted.
“Do you know it’s illegal to be in possession of marijuana in the state of Florida?” the magistrate asked.
The Floridian said he knew this, but added that the penalty was just a fine.
“Or jail time,” the magistrate suggested to the American.
“About ten days. That’s a small amount and maybe six months probation,” White said.
“Did you know that being in possession of marijuana is illegal in the Bahamas?” the magistrate asked. “Yes. I knew it was wrong. I’m sorry,” the 28-year-old said.
“I have an appreciation for those travelling to countries and respecting their laws, having travelled myself. If you are not aware of what the law of the countries are, you would do well to familiarise yourself,” the magistrate said.
He went on to say that White knew it was wrong, but still took the risk that could have landed him in jail.
“And unlike US prisons, our prisons are not as hospitable,” the magistrate added before fining White $500.
“The fine has to be paid today or you will face three months’ imprisonment,” the magistrate added.
The same punishment was handed down to 27-year-old William McGann, of Sarasota, Florida, who was arrested onboard the “Adventurer of the Sea” when what was suspected to be marijuana was found in a cigarette box in his pocket.
In police custody, McGann admitted the drugs were his at the time he was searched and told police he had purchased the two grams of marijuana from downtown, Nassau.
McGann accepted the facts read by the prosecutor and pleaded for leniency, saying that he worked seven days a week and had made a mistake for the sake of wanting to have some fun.
Magistrate Forbes told him that “we haven’t moved to the point yet where marijuana is legal in The Bahamas like in some states in the US and we haven’t moved yet to the point where medical marijuana is legal.”
“I understand you’re predisposition for wanting to have fun in the tropics, but like I said to Mr White, be aware of where you are. For similar offences, some countries in Asia can carry a punishment as severe as death. I found that out myself,” he said.
“But we’re not as barbaric as that,” he added, before accepting the guilty plea and fining McGann.
Kevin Celli, 37, of Canterbury Way, New Jersey, was also fined $500 or faced with three months in jail after pleading guilty to possession of cocaine.
Celli accepted the facts read by the prosecution that he had been arrested onboard the “Adventurer of the Sea” cruiseline Saturday night when a package of suspect cocaine was found in his possession.
He also accepted that he told police, while in custody, that he had purchased the drugs (two grams) for $50 in the area of the Straw Market.
“It was the worst mistake of my life,” the 37-year-old said, adding that he was ashamed that his wife and family had to leave without him because he had made a stupid mistake.
“I was walking around the straw market. I was drinking. I had like two rums that morning. I haven’t used since college,” he explained, adding that he’d saved three years to pay for the vacation.
“I don’t know how much common sense you would have needed in that situation but you certainly lacked it in that moment,” the magistrate replied.
Following this arraignment, a 61-year-old man was fined $800 for pleading guilty to possessing five grams of marijuana.
Ronald Puder, of Fort Myers, Florida, told police that he knew it was illegal to be in possession of drugs, but didn’t intend to bring the marijuana off the ship.
“I brought them with me,” Puder told the magistrate, who asked: “Why?”
“I was just looking to have a good time,” the elderly man said.
The Floridian admitted that he was aware that he was possibly breaking state and federal laws when he brought the drugs from the US into another jurisdiction.
“You could’ve faced a slew of charges engaging in a habit you say will give you a good time,” the magistrate said, adding that “even healthy 20-something year-olds don’t want to spend time in prison.”
“So you need to find yourself something else to enjoy. You could’ve enjoyed a Cuban cigar just as much,” the magistrate reasoned before fining the man $800 and said ”you will serve three months if the fine is not paid”.
The same order was made to 60-year-old Jana Jolly of Jacksonville, Florida, who said, “I had no idea of the consequences here (The Bahamas).”
However, she admitted she was aware that she was possibly breaking state and federal laws when she also brought five grams of marijuana to The Bahamas onboard the “Enchantment of the Sea” cruiseline.
“It was a chance I took,” she said, adding that at most she would have been fined for the misdemeanour in her country.
“But it would still be a conviction,” the magistrate suggested. The Floridian agreed.
“It is a shock that individuals at this age would be engaging in such illegal activities,” the magistrate remarked before fining her $800.
“That fine has to be paid. If it is not paid, you will serve three months,” the magistrate told her.
Magistrate Forbes ordered all of the confiscated drugs to be destroyed and said that immigration would assist the five in getting back home whenever the fine is paid.