Most articles surrounding this topic online are forums where recreational drug users seek advice on where to purchase drugs, how to get them onboard the ship in various ports, and how to get a “personal use” amount back into the United States. Each question receives dozens of answers; some relevant, some not. The recent move by some states and cities to allow medical marijuana and to decriminalize possession for personal use has added to the conversations.
This article is not about you using or not using recreational drugs, that is a decision each individual needs to make for themselves. The use of recreational drugs, however, does affect others, and cruise lines have policies.
“Anything is legal on the high seas!” is often touted on the message boards. Once you get it onboard, you can party all you want. It’s often suggested to buy certain drugs in Mexico (where possession is not a crime) and carry it onboard. This is a misconception that can get you kicked off a ship, or worst, land you in prison. When you are on a ship, you are under the laws of the country the ship is registered in. In the passenger contract you signed, the cruise line’s zero drug tolerance is included. If you are found with drugs, you will most likely be escorted off the ship at the next port. Recently, a number of cruise passengers may have wished for that treatment.
Ships calling on their flag countries of Bermuda and the Bahamas are routinely visited by drug sniffing dogs. The laws of those countries allow them to board the ship and inspect for drugs without warrants. If a dog alerts a stateroom, the police have probable cause to search. Since you are not the owner of the ship, your presence is not required during the search. Additionally, the ship officers are required by law to report any suspicious activity suspected of being drug related. Ship policies require room stewards to also report suspected drug use. If you are reported, not only will your room be subject to search, you will be taken in for questioning.
In both Bermuda and the Bahamas, if the amount of drugs found in your possession are in small quantities, you will likely be arraigned the same day, plead guilty, pay your fine, and return to the ship. The fine in the Bahamas is $500 per charge. In Bermuda, the fine depends on the type of drug, but commonly ranges from $800 to $4000.
A final note on your conviction. The U.S. Consulate is required to be notified of your international arrest and/or your conviction. Expect to be detained and interviewed by Customs and Border Control when you arrive back in the United States.
Your Are Not in Washington Anymore, Dorothy.
Recently in Bermuda, a woman was arrested for having marijuana locked inside her in-room safe. She presented a medical certificate and prescription stating it was for pain relief. The judge stated that marijuana was not an accepted medical treatment and she was fined $1,000. In 2011, a man from Massachusetts, where marijuana is legal, was arrested with 29 grams of marijuana. He explained that he took it on advice from his doctor to relieve pain from carpal tunnel syndrome. He said the quantity was high due to it’s poor quality and the 2-week length of the cruise. The judge found him guilty, and gave him the minimal consequence of 10 years in prison or a $10,000 fine.