Legislation pertaining to marijuana on agenda as midterm elections approach
Despite growing public support for the decriminalization of marijuana, one Texan, Congressman Lamar Smith, and Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California are pushing the Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2010.
The bill’s language is allegedly so malleable that its critics are concerned it could be used to prosecute Americans for drug use that is legal abroad, but illegal domestically. The bill’s authors stand by the legislation and refute this allegation. Smith and Schiff, while seeking to protect Americans, may be overstepping the bounds of acceptable foreign policy.
Since the bill can be evaluated based upon two charges (individual possession, and the larger focus of trafficking), many things must be taken into consideration.
“If you go to Amsterdam on vacation and smoke a doob, you’re fine,” a senior House Judiciary committee staffer told The Daily Caller. “So long as it’s legal in the country where you’ll be,” the staffer said.
“(This bill) seeks to authorize U.S. criminal prosecution of anyone in the U.S. suspected of conspiring with one or more persons and 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,” the Drug Policy Alliance states on its Facebook page. “These penalties apply even if the controlled substance is legal under some circumstances in the other country.”
Whether or not this bill allows the above (it doesn’t seem as though it does), it should be alarming that Congress, which at the time was likely to pass the bill, would act so far from the consensus of the states debating for a closer evaluation of American drug policy. Most notably, California’s drug policy comes to a vote this November.
In 2005, Gallup conducted a poll that showed support in the Western United States to be in favor of legalization by 47 percent. A 2010 report by “The Atlantic” showed that polling consistently showed this support to be firmly in place.
The undecided voters are slowly taking sides in the debate over Proposition 19, the bill to legalize marijuana in California.
The most recent poll cited by “The Atlantic” was a September public policy phone survey showing the Proposition passing 47 percent to 38 percent, with the majority favoring legalization of personal possession and growth for personal use.
“Even though this bill references drug trafficking in the title, it also criminalizes conspiring to possess and use marijuana or other drugs in other countries if more than one person is involved — even if drug use is decriminalized in that country,” the DPA’s Facebook note asserts.
The aforementioned staffer dismissed these concerns, devaluing the legislation’s alleged Orwellian aims by pointing out that it’d be impossible to enforce person-by-person: “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?”
The staffer goes on to explain that the bill was drafted in response to a 2007 incident wherein a Colombian drug lord and Saudi prince had conspired to traffic drugs. Although the Miami-based middlemen were successfully prosecuted by the Department of Justice, the crime didn’t precisely fit the Controlled Substances Act, so the implication was that legislation could be drafted to close this loophole.
Ultimately, it seems the DPA is taking the legislation out of the intended context. Some of the bill’s components are troubling in the context of American foreign policy. While it’s impossible to enforce in terms of Americans buying and using drugs abroad, the notion that the U.S. should be able to prevent trafficking abroad is well intentioned — however, it’s not realistic and largely outside of the federal government’s auspices until it becomes clear that the U.S. is the final destination.
Joseph Marhee is a history junior and may be reached at [email protected].