Drug pushers must not only be jailed for narco-trafficking but they should also never be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their ill-gotten gains, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Charles Leacock reminded maritime security professionals and legal practitioners today.
In this vein, new laws on civil forfeiture might soon be enacted to facilitate the seizure and confiscation of assets of those involved in the illicit drugs trade.
At the same time, the DPP called for a more humane way to deal with “mere drug users”, insisting that it did not always make sense to jail them.
Under the Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) Act of 1991, a court may order the forfeiture of “any money or thing [other than premises, a ship exceeding 250 gross tonnes or an aircraft] which has been used in the commission of or in connection with” a drug-related offence.
Any money or other thing received or possessed by any person as the result or product of an offence under the Act is also liable to be forfeited.
However, in an address at the fourth Multilateral Maritime Interdiction and Prosecution summit, which opened at the Hilton Barbados Resort this morning, Leacock appeared to suggest that the law did not go far enough, even as he promoted a “multifaceted and holistic struggle” against illegal drugs.
“We can no longer be satisfied with having drug traffickers in prison. Drug traffickers must be disgorged of their illegally gotten gains. And towards that end we do need, especially in this part of the world, much more modern legislation,” the DPP said.
“The trading, or the dealing in drug trafficking . . . the fight against that must continue unabated and relentlessly. And in order to do that not only must we continue to address the operational capabilities of interdiction, eradication and incarceration, but we also must place much greater emphasis on taking the money out of it.”
The DPP also expressed concern about the ease with which some traffickers get away and called for additional tools for law enforcement in the fight against narcotics.
“[For too long] drug traffickers have been able to sit back and enjoy all of the democratic rights of the citizens, which they’re entitled to, [and] also, with their vast resources can pay for some of the best criminal attorneys at the Bar, and have absolutely nothing to prove,” he noted.
Leacock stressed that in the last two decades there had been a paradigm shift in the fight against drugs globally, adding that the three principal planks of incarceration, eradication and elimination had worked with limited success.
However, he recommended that the problem must be handled in a more holistic way.
“Among the major criticisms that have been levelled against the fight on drugs so far is that not enough has been done to treat the mere drug users . . . rather than in terms of punishment. And that is one of the reasons why we’re having this shift in theoretical approach,” Leacock told the gathering.
He pointed to non-custodial initiatives in Barbados, including rehabilitation centres and the recently launched drug treatment court. Other countries have also introduced programmes targeting at-risk youth, particularly students.
“These are all broad aspects of the struggle that must be continued on all fronts, which clearly compels us to the conclusion that the struggle against drugs must continue to be a multifaceted and holistic struggle.
“I think we can all agree now especially with the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in certain states, that this is a reality, notwithstanding the federal prohibition remains in the United States . . . it is a growing trend, and it is one of the realities that we will have to face, that incarceration and punishment cannot be the option for everyone or in every case. And I don’t think this was ever the basic theory in the fight against narcotics,” he said.
The opening of the two-day meeting coincided with a special session at the United Nations today to discuss drugs policy reform.
The conference is being hosted by the Barbados Defence Force, in collaboration with the Office of Maritime Law Enforcement, Interdiction Division of the United States Coast Guard.