Who Do You Trust When It Comes to Interpreting Drug War Legislation?


Yesterday, I blogged the Drug Policy Alliance's take on new drug war legislation known as the The Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2010, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act (the major legislation governing the War on Drugs). DPA claims that the bill could "subject Americans to incarceration for drug offenses and public health interventions that are legal in the foreign country in which they're committed." In other words, if you smoke dope in Amsterdam or shoot heroin overseas—even under a doctor's orders—you could get locked up in the U.S. for it.

Former Reason intern and current Daily Caller wunderkind Mike Riggs reports out the story and gets some quotes from the Dept. of Justice that suggest that pot smokers vacationing in Amsterdam are not likely to be the targets of DOJ actions. The new law springs from a 2007 case in which Saudi Arabians and Colombians brokered a deal partly in Miami to ship drugs from Venezuela to Paris (yes, my head hurts too).

"In this particular case, the federal prosecution was based on meetings the defendants held in Miami (among other locations), during which they conspired to transport cocaine from Venezuela to France," the memo reads. The DOJ trotted out the conspiracy provision of the CSA, even though it was not intended for cases in which drugs never touched U.S. shores. The conviction didn't stick.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the conviction, ruling that where the object of a conspiracy was to possess controlled substances outside the United States with the intent to distribute outside the United States, there is no violation of U.S. law, even though the conspiracy (meetings, negotiations, etc.) occurred on U.S. soil," the memo reads.

So the new law is designed to make sure that feds can nab drug traffickers who chat in the U.S. even if they don't move any product in good ol' America:

"We're taking away a safe haven," the Judiciary Committee staffer said. "It's a weird result of federal law that cartels can escape their home countries, come to the U.S., and plan to ship drugs from their home country to another country outside the U.S."

But before you take a deep bong hit and relax, there's this:

[A] Judiciary Committee staffer says the DPA's fears are overblown.

"So what? I say to someone, 'I'm going to [possess] a dime bag of marijuana when I get to Amsterdam'?" the staffer said. "I can't technically say that's not within the four corners of the Controlled Substances Act. But how is a law enforcement officer supposed to know that?"

I'd say that any sort of idiotic prosecution that is possible under any drug war law is probable to happen at some point. And I think DPA is essentially right when they fret that the proposed law "expands the drug war at a time that most Americans want major drug policy reform."

Riggs' whole piece, worth reading, here.