Our cruise lawyers have reported on dozens of incidents involving drug related crimes on the high seas and in port, many of which have involved a line’s own crew members smuggling illicit substances. However, a recent incident concerning the arrest of two cruise passengers has left our firm wondering if travelers are fully aware of their rights.
In the United States, marijuana consumption is only legal for recreational use in Colorado and Washington State, but in other countries, mainly the Caribbean islands cruise ships frequent, drug laws are more lax. Many travelers are under the impression that they can purchase and smoke cannabis while in a foreign country, as long as they don’t bring the substance onboard the vessel. Unfortunately, two passengers who were sightseeing in Belize City got a little more than they bargained for when they were caught with cannabis.
The passengers, who arrived in Belize on Tuesday, were apprehended less than one hour before the last tender was scheduled to head back to their ship. One of the men was discovered by police at the city’s Tourism Village, a small area featuring several shops and restaurants with 4.7 grams of marijuana inside plastic bag at around 11 a.m. He was detained and appeared before a magistrate, where he pleaded guilty and was fined $400. Sure, it seems like a fair deal, but the story doesn’t end there. A few minutes later, authorities found the other cruise passenger and claim he was acting suspicious. When police approached him, they discovered eight ounces of marijuana in a bag. The second passenger also pleaded guilty and was fined $800
The men were able to pay their fines and made their way back to the waiting tender. No jail time, no follow ups; that was it.
But what exactly were the passengers doing that warranted police suspicion? Were officers looking to find vulnerable tourists to take advantage of? Were the men really engaging in inappropriate behavior that merited the search?
Unfortunately, since the incident occurred in Belize, not much will likely be revealed to the public. Foreign countries don’t operate the same way the U.S. does with thorough investigations or follow-up court appearances. Here in the U.S., if you are caught with cannabis or any other drug for that matter, most likely you will be arrested and detained for several days on end until you are scheduled an arraignment.
The men didn’t even have a trial. Though they pleaded guilty to the marijuana offense, were they truly smoking the cannabis or is there more to the incident? Could they have been coerced into paying the fine out of fear they might be detained? Were they threatened?
All of these are possibilities. Our cruise lawyers previously reported on an incident involving a Carnival Sensation teen passenger who was accused of possessing marijuana in her cruise cabin, and though crew members did not find any trace of illicit substances, she was subjected to a strip and cavity search, then kicked off the ship and held in an adult cell in the Bahamas, were she claims to have been sexually assaulted.
This isn’t the first time passengers have been unjustly accused of possessing drugs, and most likely won’t be the last.
In Belize, cruise passengers are often arrested or fined for possessing small amounts of marijuana, even if the drug was bought in the country. But unless the suspects are actually witnessed smoking the cannabis, how exactly are officers noting “suspicious behavior” that merits a search?
Perhaps law enforcement is just that good in Belize that officers are able to spot wrongdoers a mile away. Seems more likely to us that they spotted the tourists a mile away and jumped on the chance to make a quick $1,200.
Cruise passengers are always easy targets when it comes to foreign country arrests. Officials know they will not likely retain a lawyer or fight back against their accusations, and will most likely just pay whatever fine is asked in order to get back home as quickly as possible.
Back in 2011, another cruise ship passenger was fined $250 for possession of marijuana after officials claim he was “acting suspiciously.”
But what are these suspicious actions? Were these men just severely intoxicated and causing a public disturbance? Is it a coincidence that this cruise passenger, along with the two recently fined passengers, was arrested in the same Belize Tourism Village?
Coincidence? We think not.
But this tactic, whether it is a sincere effort of Belize officials to crack down on drug crimes or just a ploy to get tourists to pay up, seems to be working. After all, it is much easier to walk away from a potential drug charge and jail time in a foreign country where bail is not an option and where U.S. rights don’t come into play, than to argue a case.
Either way, any cruise passenger who has been accused of possessing drugs, whether they did in fact have the drugs or not, should always contact a cruise ship lawyer to discuss their possible options in filing a case and launching an investigation into the incident.