Ganja penalties worse for expats

Four persons on work permit found out last week that the consequences of possessing and consuming ganja extend far beyond a fine.

In Summary Court on Friday, attorneys said three of the defendants had already lost their jobs and the fourth’s might be in jeopardy. Those who lost their job will now have to leave the island.

In addition, all now have a criminal conviction, which they will have to declare in future job applications. All worked in the hospitality industry.

The defendants were Andrew Krimchanski and Philip Koen, both from South Africa; Phillipp Jesenko from Austria; and Chloe Lovatt, Canadian.

They were each fined $750 and ordered to pay a further $100 toward the costs of prosecution. All pleaded guilty to consumption and joint possession of about an ounce of ganja.

Crown Counsel Scott Wilson explained that the ganja had not yet been analysed. But the defendants had indicated it was purchased for $100. About an ounce is the amount normally purchased for that sum of money, he said.

The offences were detected on the night of 14 December.

Mr. Wilson said police officers were driving around a night club off West Bay Road when they smelled ganja. On checking further, they realised the scent came from a premises beyond the night club’s parking lot.

They went to the premises and the smell became stronger, as a door was open. They saw Jesenko and Koen sitting at a table smoking a joint and Lovatt walking out of the kitchen. On the table was a bag of ganja.

The officers introduced themselves and Krimchanski then came out of his bedroom. The officers asked if there were any other drugs on the premises and Krimchanski pointed them out.

Attorney Anthony Akiwumi spoke first and Attorneys Nicholas Dixey and Ben Tonner adopted his submission that a conditional discharge could be an appropriate way of dealing with the matter.

In mitigation for Krimchanski, Mr. Akiwumi commented, ‘It may well be said he should have known better, but this court is one that, having heard all the facts, is in a position to take the most merciful and sympathetic course.’

After listening to mitigation for all the defendants, Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale said that convictions must be recorded, although she had been moved by the eloquent pleas.

People who come to Cayman , whether they are passing through or remaining as guest workers, must have regard for the laws of the country , she said.

The case before her was one of cultural clash, she commented. Ganja use may be looked at differently in the countries of the defendants’ origin.

‘But these islands are in peril,’ she declared. They are used as trans-shipment points. Recent events suggested the islands were awash in drugs.

People in Cayman are concerned about the destruction of their culture and their young people through the use of and trading in drugs, the magistrate continued.

It is often said that drug users hurt no one but themselves, but that was not true, she said. There is a lot of death, damage and destruction on the supply side. ‘People lose their very lives to produce and bring ganja here so people like you can use it,’ she told the defendants.

Authorities try to address the supply side, but the law would also address the user side in a two-prong approach to the problem. For that reason, the magistrate said, convictions must be recorded.

She explained that an absolute or conditional discharge would suggest that the court was not offended by the conduct of individuals who had been accepted in Cayman as persons of good character.

Circumstances

Mr. Akiwumi advised that Krimchanski at age 36 was coming before a court for the first time and was extremely embarrassed about it.

He had a job as a server at a local establishment and there was a risk that position might be jeopardy because of his guilty pleas that day. ‘Your Honour may take the view that is enough punishment,’ Mr. Akiwumi suggested.

Krimchanski never intended to flout the laws of Cayman; he now realised ganja use is a serious offence and not tolerated in these islands. This defendant was willing to enter a drug education programme because he now understood that it is unacceptable to treat ganja as simply a recreational drug, Mr. Akiwumi said.

Mr. Tonner told the court that Jesenko, 23, had earned a diploma in hotel management and came here in December 2004 with good prospects.

His girlfriend had just come to join him and had gained employment. They had an apartment together with a 12-month contract. Now he had lost his job and would have to leave the island. ‘His dreams have been destroyed,’ Mr. Tonner said.

The defendant Koen at 28 has already worked in hospitality for 15 years, Mr. Dixey told the court. He had enjoyed his work experience in Cayman immensely, but lost his employment immediately after this incident.

Foreign nationals who commit this offence suffer more than locals because of the consequences, Mr. Dixey remarked. ‘That is how it should be.’ But loss of employment and uprooting are sufficient punishment, he urged.

Mr. Dixey told the court that Lovatt had been here just five or six weeks, working as a bartender, so this was a terrible blow to her.

Foreign nationals on the island must obey the law, he agreed. ‘Those of us who live and work here consider it a wonderful privilege,’ he said.

The magistrate acknowledged the extraordinary repercussions of the offences, including loss of good character.

In passing sentence, she said she considered the defendants’ hardship. The ganja they had bought together for $100 would now cost them $1,000. But it was a joint charge, so each would pay $250. The fine was $500 for consumption, so the total for each, plus costs, was $850.

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