Nickel Milkson, the 38 years old Grenadian painter and his compatriot Devon Williams, a 41 years old fisherman – along with Vincentian farmers Bertram Simmons and Dwayne Richards – 53 and 38 years old respectively – were all sentenced on July 23 on charges that an approximated 166 pounds of unregulated ganja were found in their custody. The prosecution also charged that the cannabis was also intended to be supplied to others as part of a drug trafficking enterprise that necessitated the exportation of the controlled substance.
The foursome was en route to Grenada on May 21, 2021, when they were intercepted by a Vincentian Coast Guard vessel. On July 23 they were collectively fined $80, 000, the forfeiture application for Williams’ boat was upheld and deportation and destruction (of the contraband) orders were also declared.
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne was in no mood to entertain a further adjournment to facilitate a review of the tendered valuation for the vessel on which the men were travelling at the time of their arrest.
During mitigation and again after the Court imposed the hefty fines on the foursome, the value of the contraband and the vessel used to transport same came up for some discussion.
To defence attorney Grant Connel’s mind, not only is the local ganja evaluation system skewered, since according to him the value of the drug is highest when Vincentians are being penalized but lowest when they stand to gain economically. But there was a blatant conflict of interest issue that cropped up, again, with the method of deriving a value for the boat, Connel argued, even as the Court accepted the estimated EC$16, 500 quotation for the entire vessel.
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“The boat had steering, ram and everything. The value of that boat was far in excess of $20, 000.00. I cannot understand how the valuator put the value for less then $17, 000.
“You cannot build a boat and equip it with 60 horsepower engines, with steering wheel, ram – everything – for that figure. You have to be fair to the prisoner.
“You can’t seize his asset and undervalue it when you know it goes to the State and the value of it reduces his fines. You have to be fair to him,” he told us.
ANN was able to ascertain that a 2020 Yamaha outboard engine of the same calibre as the one belonging to Williams was being sold at EC$18, 150 including taxes.
One of the areas of concern for Connel, as he told the Serious Offences Court, was the “unethical approach” of the sole valuator being used by the Court. He said he requested of Howard’s Marines a quotation, since they are also the official Yamaha boat engine dealers for this market, but none was ever sent to him.
The valuation report, which was submitted by that same company, estimated the nearly brand new engine at EC$9, 000 without explaining the depreciation method used.
Prosecutor Renrick Cato, like Chief Magistrate Browne, noted that he was not a specialist in boat engines and therefore must rely on what was written in the report.
Connel countered that the Court should have more than one evaluators in case, as was happening, one value was being questioned.
One day ahead of Browne’s sentencing, Connel also spoke with ANN. He said, “it would be interesting to see what value [Chief Magistrate Browne] puts on the 166 pounds because the medical cannabis is valued at $50 per pound.
“I think that is what Kelly Glass offers. So if somebody who is growing weed here for medical marijuana purpose is supposed to be the saving grace and they are offered $50; so that when they are going to profit they earn $50 per pound and when they’re going to suffer – as in go to jail – the value is ten times.
“And the value has a nexus to the sentence because they Act says you can charge a man up to three times the value of the drug [on the extreme end of the sentencing spectrum].
“So I raised the issue of purity because the guidelines that are not set in stone, says the purity and the quantity are to be taken into consideration.”
In Court, Connel attempted, but failed, to persuade the judge to discern between the quantity of sticks and seeds versus the pure cannabis weight, “because really you are sentencing a man for stalks and seeds – which is not illegal.”
Chief Magistrate Browne, Connel opined, “took the Pontius Pilot approach but for the Appeal Courts these are changing times and if you make a decision the DPP can appeal that decision and the same Appeal Court would make a ruling on if the DPP was right or if the Magistrate was right.
“When you look at the suffering which the possession of 166 pounds of marijuana, which is no stranger to St. Vincent, causes. The reality is: the times are changing and this veneer created in the law called medical marijuana is just that – a veneer – it’s the same plant, same buds, same everything.
“So how come on one side of the mountain you could have a collection of 2000 lbs of marijuana and 500 trees, legally. But, on the other side, you’re tormenting the men’s lives?
“It’s not correct. It’s wrong if you ask me but it is what it is.”
The men were ultimately fined EC$20, 000 each. A reflection of an almost $500 per pound of cannabis value.
The fines were weighted between the possession charge – $8500 – and the trafficking offence which was ticketed at $11, 500. For the attempted exportation of “the new Vincentian green gold” they were all slapped with a two years jail term that was in turn suspended for two years.
Milkson was ordered to pay his full sum forthwith. The boat’s value was deducted from Williams’ share but Chief Magistrate Browne insisted he pay the full $3500 owed to the Court forthwith or be jailed for a further 4 months.
The Vincentian farmers, who both hail from Fitz Hughes in the major ganja producing belt of the island, were both ordered to immediately pay $5000 each before they could rejoin their families. In default they would continue their current residence at Her Majesty’s pleasure for another 4 months.
They have until November 12, 2021 to zero their individual balances or face an additional 12 months jail time.
Simmons and Richards claimed to not have readily available cash although their lawyer told the Court that they “have weed from the amnesty period but no investor to sell it too.”
Grant entreated Chief Magistrate Browne to lower the immediate payouts to $2000 “and give them some time.” However, she offered to “revisit the sentence with a view to a custodial [ruling] since I’m still sitting.”
After a flurry of conversations in search of the ordered fines, we were later told, the men were remanded into custody.
The Grenadians were also slapped with fines for breaching two Vincentian immigration regulations but these penalties were quickly reduced to “time served” since failure to pay the combined EC$1500 would have been one month imprisonment for each of them.