MARIJUANA-CARRYING TRAVELLERS TO U.S. RECEIVE DIRE WARNING
A Seattle criminal lawyer who specializes in drug cases warns Canadians
against smuggling marijuana into Washington state following new U.S.
efforts to keep Canadian drug suspects in jail pending trial for fear they
will skip bail.
"These Canadian kids, they don't realize the American government has gone
completely berserk about marijuana," Jeffrey Steinborn said in an interview
"They treat you as though you were smuggling chemical/biological weapons or
nukes or something. They get that excited about it. Don't come. Don't bring
pot down here because you don't realize how extreme the consequences are."
Marijuana smugglers face a minimum five-year sentence in the U.S. A person
could shorten that sentence by 53 days per year after the first year served
for good behaviour, he said.
"You don't get out of jail, you get a huge amount of prison time, and the
government has started denying people their right to prisoner transfer
under our treaty with Canada."
In the first count of its kind it was found that 47 Canadians were
considered for pretrial release in western Washington between June and
December, with 26 released on bail and seven missing court dates. That's a
failure-to-appear rate of nearly 27 per cent, compared with one to two per
cent for all defendants, government lawyers said.
Because Canadians charged with drug offences are perceived to be a flight
risk, U.S. courts are taking a harder line on granting them bail pending trial.
"It is true that a lot of Canadians are smart enough not to come back,"
Two Canadians, Achilles Grakul and Raymund Sarandi, were arrested Jan. 27
near the Lynden, Wash., border crossing.
Investigators said they crossed the border with more than 200 kilograms of
B.C.-grown marijuana. Another truck authorities said was involved contained
78 kilograms of marijuana.
"Any time you get over 50 kilos, the feds take an interest," Steinborn said.
"They'll request that you not be released. And the way things are going, I
think the government is winning on that one. So you start doing the time
the day you get busted. It's kind of frustrating."
A U.S. magistrate agreed to release Grakul and Sarandi on bail, but before
that could happen assistant U.S. attorney Patricia Lally appealed to the
U.S. district court, which ordered the two suspects to remain in custody
Steinborn said he doesn't have time to appeal the case before the trial,
which is scheduled for Monday, but doubts it would do any good, given the
political situation in which even low-level drug offenders currently find
themselves in the U.S.
"The people getting busted in the U.S. are almost entirely at the very
bottom of the rung. They don't know diddly about what's going on. They're
basically told: 'Here, get in this boat or that car or whatever. Go meet
this person.' If they get busted, they're cut loose."
"Mr. Grakul (age 30), at the worst, is one of those."
The two accused Canadians are being held in custody at the SeaTac detention
centre, or as Steinborn calls it, the SeaTac Gulag.
"A gulag is where you hold political prisoners, and many of them are
political prisoners," he said. "If there is anything in the criminal
justice system regarding drugs that is not political, I'll be damned if I
know what it is."
Steinborn operates a Web site -- www.potbust.com -- and estimates
two-thirds of his clientele are Canadians charged with drug offences.
Canadian bail jumpers who scoot back across the border are beyond the reach
of U.S. arrest warrants.
They face few if any repercussions in Canada, and extradition can take
years, Lally said.
"Our office is becoming increasingly concerned about the disappearance of
our Canadian national defendants. If we have to seek extradition in every
case where a Canadian doesn't appear, we would be spending all our time
just processing extradition documents."