What the hell does this have to do with the jobs, jobs, jobs the Republicans promised us? Meanwhile, our current national drug policies continue to do more harm than good, supporting a thriving criminal underworld and vicious drug gangs, with a disproportionate effect on the lives of young black men in the inner cities. Now we want to trap even more U.S. citizens in that net? How many of these legislators own pieces of these private prisons, anyway?
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. The new law, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) 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.
The Controlled Substances Act also regulates the distribution of prescription drugs, so something as simple as emailing a friend vacationing in Tijuana some suggestions on where to buy prescription medication over the counter could subject a U.S. resident to criminal prosecution. "It could even be something like advising them where to buy cold medicine overseas that they'd have to show I.D. to get here in the U.S.," Piper says.
Civil libertarian attorney and author Harvey Silverglate says the bill raises several concerns. "Just when you think you can't get any more cynical, a bill like this comes along. I mean, it just sounds like an abomination. First, there's no intuitive reason for an American to think that planning an activity that's perfectly legal in another country would have any effect on America," Silverglate says. "So we're getting further away from the common law tradition that laws should be intuitive, and should include a mens rea component. Second, this is just an act of shameless cultural and legal imperialism. It's just outrageous."