Magistrate Valdis Foldats had words of advice for travelers in general and people who visit Cayman in particular – check the local laws.
He shared them on Tuesday when sentencing a tourist who pleaded guilty to possession of 2.25 grams of ganja – two grams in the form of vegetable matter and one-quarter gram in liquid form.
Defense attorney Jonathon Hughes said the man, 47, made no attempt to disguise or hide the items, but acknowledged that he had not checked “what I can and can’t do” in the Cayman Islands before his arrival.
The attorney and the magistrate discussed the difference between ignorance and negligence, and why cases like this were difficult to deal with.
Crown counsel Kerri-Ann Gillies provided details of the offenses. She said the defendant arrived in Cayman on Sunday, March 3, for a vacation with his wife and children. At the airport, a search of his luggage revealed the vegetable matter as well as the liquid, which was in a container like a vaping pen.
Mr. Hughes described the pen as a device that allows one to smoke ganja in oil form. The defendant had received it from a friend in Colorado where ganja is legal. The defendant himself lived in a “college town” municipality where ganja is legal and he used the drug as a sleep aid.
The man, who taught at a state school, had never been to court before in his life, Mr. Hughes said. He asked that this defendant be treated as a first offender with a small quantity for personal use.
The magistrate said this type of case was difficult for several reasons, including the fact that bringing the ganja was a deliberate act and not a case of forgetting it was in the suitcase.
He suggested that, before people travel, they should check what the laws are in countries they intend to visit. “It took me five minutes to print this off the internet,” he said, showing papers that contained information from the U.S. State Department about what is illegal in the Cayman Islands, as well as the baggage policy from American Airlines, the airline on which the defendant had traveled. He pointed to the very strict punishments in some countries for illegal substances.
The magistrate also noted that he and other magistrates wanted to be consistent, but they did not have guidelines from a higher court.
Mr. Hughes suggested that perhaps 95 percent of first offenders did not have a conviction recorded against them for ganja because the court had other ways to deal with them.
The magistrate agreed that defendants resident on-island were given the opportunity to “go through the process” of being interviewed by a probation officer, being monitored through drug tests and returning to court on multiple occasions. “With visitors, we don’t have that option,” he accepted.
In this case, the Crown withdrew a charge of importing ganja and that was dismissed. The magistrate then said no conviction would be recorded, the defendant was discharged absolutely and ordered to pay costs of $500 instead of a fine.
The Compass does not typically name an individual in court cases where no conviction is recorded.