The Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2010 goes before the House floor today as an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) which contains the majority of legislation behind the “war on drugs.” The bill came about in response to a 2007 criminal case in Florida known as United States v. Lopez-Vanegas. In this case, Saudi Prince Nayef Al-Shaalan conspired in Miami to allow Colombian drug lord Juan Gabriel Usuga use his private plane to transport cocaine to France from Venezuela. The pair were convicted under the conspiracy clause of the CSA, however on appeal the courts overturned the ruling and stated that the conspiracy clause in the CSA did not apply because the drugs themselves were never on US soil.
According to a memo released by the court, “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 court also let it be know that should Congress change the law, future cases may be interpreted different when it said “that the conspiracy provision of the CSA relied upon by federal prosecutors could not be extended to conspiracies to act outside of the United States because Congress had not expressed its intention for the statute to be applied in such a manner.”
This latest debate aims to close the loophole in the current law, however the Drug Policy Alliance feels that this only furthers the reach of the US drug law, when most people are rallying for drug reform. On their Facebook page, they state that the Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act “seeks to authorize U.S. criminal prosecution of anyone in the U.S. suspected of conspiring with one or more persons, or aiding or abetting one or more persons, to commit at any place outside the United States an act that would constitute a violation of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act if committed within the United States. These penalties apply even if the controlled substance is legal under some circumstances in the other country.”
The concern this raises regards how the law will apply to US citizens who violate the CSA, but in a country where the act is not a crime – smoking marijuana in Amsterdam for example. While one senior House Judiciary committee staffer says “If you go to Amsterdam on vacation and smoke a doob, you’re fine, so long as it’s legal in the country where you’ll be,” another has a different interpretation of the legislation.
If a US citizen in Amsterdam is in possession of marijuana, he says “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?” This will not be of comfort to most, ass Nick Gillespie says in his article on Reason.com – “any sort of idiotic prosecution that is possible under any drug war law is probable to happen at some point.”
[source Daily Caller]