House Passes Incredible Anti-Drug Bill

House Passes Incredible Anti-Drug Bill October 14, 2011

The House Judiciary Committee easily passed a bill that would apply American drug laws even to actions taken in another country — and even if those actions are entirely legal in that country. Balko has the details:

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill yesterday that would make it a federal crime for U.S. residents to discuss or plan activities on foreign soil that, if carried out in the U.S., would violate the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) — even if the planned activities are legal in the countries where they’re carried out. H.R. 313, the “Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011,” is sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and allows prosecutors to bring conspiracy charges against anyone who discusses, plans or advises someone else to engage in any activity that violates the CSA, the massive federal law that prohibits drugs like marijuana and strictly regulates prescription medication.

“Under this bill, if a young couple plans a wedding in Amsterdam, and as part of the wedding, they plan to buy the bridal party some marijuana, they would be subject to prosecution,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for reforming the country’s drug laws. “The strange thing is that the purchase of and smoking the marijuana while you’re there wouldn’t be illegal. But this law would make planning the wedding from the U.S. a federal crime.”

The law could also potentially affect academics and medical professionals. For example, a U.S. doctor who works with overseas doctors or government officials on needle exchange programs could be subject to criminal prosecution. A U.S. resident who advises someone in another country on how to grow marijuana or how to run a medical marijuana dispensary would also be in violation of the new law, even if medical marijuana is legal in the country where the recipient of the advice resides. If interpreted broadly enough, a prosecutor could possibly even charge doctors, academics and policymakers from contributing their expertise to additional experiments like the drug decriminalization project Portugal, which has successfully reduced drug crime, addiction and overdose deaths.

Welcome to the brave new world.

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  • d cwilson

    Is this an example of the republican small government philosophy? How many jobs will this create?

  • Is this bill even legal with respect to international law? International trade law, in particular?

  • rork

    Was there a perceived need that motivated this was what I couldn’t figure out, yet. Are there some very bad people doing these things now?

  • @d cwilson in #1:

    How many jobs will this create?

    Think of all the new surveillance officers needed to listen in on people planning their trips to Amsterdam! And we all know that border control and the military don’t count when assessing the size of the government.

  • @rork in #3:

    Are there some very bad people doing these things now?

    I’m reasonably sure there are. What I can’t figure out is what damage doing that is supposed to do to the US. As for the motivation for this law, I’d say more income for the private prisons.

  • sarahoward

    Not to sound dumb, but don’t we already do the same thing with sex trafficking especially with people who go to countries like Thailand for underage sex?

  • Didaktylos

    How soon before it becomes illegal to come within a million miles of a place where drugs have been any time in the last million years?

  • bananacat

    Not to sound dumb, but don’t we already do the same thing with sex trafficking especially with people who go to countries like Thailand for underage sex?

    I’m pretty sure that having sex with children is illegal in Thailand.

  • davidct

    It’s so nice to know that we live in a “free” society. I believe that this excessive concern with expanding the definitions of criminal behavior does nothing to reduce the effects of substance abuse in this country. It only serves to assure an income stream for those involved in enforcement. The enforcement is actually a bigger threat to society than to offences themselves.

  • azportsider

    Deen @ #5: “As for the motivation for this law, I’d say more income for the private prisons.”

    There’s that, and also the opportunity to seem like they’re actually doing something while they ignore job-creation.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    How very strange that our esteemed host, usually so careful with his words when discussing legal issues, headlines this post that the “House” passed a bill which has, according to the body of this article, only made it through the Judiciary Committee.

    Where in a saner world it would never have even received a second, but still…

  • anandine

    What new world? This is a minor update to old news. We arrested Noriega in Panama for violating US law in Panama and tried him in a civilian court in Florida. We just killed Awlaki for violating US law in Yemen. And, as Bananacat says above, we arrest people for having sex with minors in Thailand. In the Noriega case, the court ruled that American laws are valid in foreign countries.

    On the other hand, when the people who tortured and killed US DEA agent Enrico Camareno were captured in Mexico and returned to the US, the court ruled that the bad guys did not have to be read their Miranda rights, because the US constitution, unlike US penal code, does not apply in foreign countries.

  • joeina2

    Ah Ed, you’re confusing your dystopias.

    The World Controllers maintained order through genetic engineering and culturally mandated excess as a distraction, not totalitarian restrictions. They became an totalitarianism but they controlled it by making people happy and playing god, not by breaking their spirit. Anyway I always took BNW as more of a sci-fi critique on current culture as opposed to the warnings and satire that Orwell produced.

    This is way more 1984 than it is BNW.

  • raven

    Another example of Tea Party small government.

    They are also back to shrinking the government small enough to climb up everyone’s vaginas and camp out in their uteruses.

    I doubt this is even remotely legal. US jurisdiction stops at US borders.

  • raven

    How many jobs will this create?

    Between this, the Thought Police, the Vagina Surveyors, and the Ministry of Truth, a lot. Around 10-20 million jobs.

    In the old East Germany, something like 10% of the population were informers for and on the other 90%.

    That’s unless they decide to build a wall to keep people from fleeing the country. Then you can add another 10 million or so.

    Nietzsche: He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. Too late for the Tea Party. They long since passed that point.

  • dmcclean

    Can we please distinguish between “House passes X” and “House Judiciary Committee passes (approves) X”?

  • subbie

    If I were inclined to view the government as a beneficent entity, concerned only for protecting U.S. citizens from those who seek to harm them, I could imagine that one legitimate application of the proposed law would be to catch and prosecute drug traffickers who are planning on bringing dangerous drugs into this country and be able to prosecute them before they actually implement their plan.

    Since I’m not so inclined, and I’m also not inclined to believe that there’s the any rational justification for our national drug policy in the first place, all I can say is WTF?

  • Lou Jost

    This also appears to apply to prescription drugs. In most countries, antibiotics can be bought without a prescription, and in any case, doctors authorized to US standards to write prescriptions are very rare or nonexistent in the back country. Pharmacies, though, are everywhere. So if a friend and I are traveling and the friend gets sick, I can’t go to the corner pharmacy and buy some antibiotics to cure her?

  • subbie

    raven, the law applies only to conduct in the U.S., so there’s no jurisdictional issue. It is absurdly asinine nonetheless.

  • Damn it all.

    Combine this with the US/Canadian cross border raids bill and suddenly, me and one of my commenters are goddamn prophets. This is how Harper imports the War On Some Drugs into Canada.

  • Azkyroth

    Not to sound dumb, but don’t we already do the same thing with sex trafficking especially with people who go to countries like Thailand for underage sex?

    Not to make you sound dumber, but do you really not see a morally significant difference between putting chemicals in your own body that make you feel good, and raping a child?