Drug sentences made harsher

Lawmakers approved changes last week to the maximum potential criminal sentences given to those convicted of drug offences in the Cayman Islands, generally making those sentences harsher.

The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill, passed unanimously by legislators, also clarified previously uncertain areas concerning which court should hear a drug case and what offences were considered more serious.

Solicitor General Cheryll Richards said the law now better defines differences between consumption, drug dealing and drug importation offences.

“(The law) is amended to draw a clear line between the top end…and those lower end street supply offences,” Ms Richards told assembly members.

Under the newly revised law, any offence related to drug importing, exporting, producing, storing, dispensing, administering, or issuing a prescription would be considered a Class B, or more serious offence. Criminal suspects charged with Category B offences are given the option of choosing trial in either Summary Court or Grand Court.

Offences such as drug selling, buying, dealing supplying, distributing, possessing, or consuming would be considered a Class C, or somewhat less serious offence. Those offences would always be tried in the Summary Court.

However, less serious might sound a bit misleading.

According to the revised sentences contained in the new law, the maximum sentences for a first conviction for buying, consuming, or possessing two ounces or more of a “hard drug” (as defined in the law) before the Summary Court would be 15 years. A second conviction before the Summary Court for such a crime would be 20 years. Any conviction before the Grand Court would carry a 25 year maximum sentence upon conviction.

For selling, dealing, distributing, supplying, dispensing, storing, illegally issuing a prescription, importing, exporting or producing less than two ounces of a hard drug, maximum sentences would be 15 years upon first conviction in Summary Court, 20 years upon second conviction in Summary Court and 25 years for any conviction in Grand Court.

For similar offences involving more than two ounces of any hard drug, maximum sentences for a first Summary Court conviction would be 20 years, a second Summary Court conviction would be 30 years, and any conviction in Grand Court could see a maximum sentence of 35 years.

In the previous legislation Ms Richards said no difference was shown for convictions in Summary Court versus convictions in Grand Court.

“There has traditionally been the distinction…that the Grand Court would be able to impose a higher penalty than the Summary Court,” she said.

Ms Richards also pointed out there was really no maximum penalty listed for drug offences for convictions in Grand Court prior to the Misuse of Drugs Law being amended last week.