Expanding the War on Drugs Abroad

The House Judiciary Committee recently passed a bill that would make it a crime for Americans to plan or even discuss any activities abroad that would violate federal drug laws if they occurred in the US – even if the acts in question are completely legal in the countries where they actually take place. Radley Balko has the disturbing 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. 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.”

If the law passes the full House and then the Senate, it would be illegal for Americans to do things like plan to smoke marijuana in the Netherlands or Portugal, or other countries where pot is legal. As Radley points out, the law would also have a negative impact on medical professionals who work abroad with drugs that are illegal in the US. Hopefully, this ill-conceived bill will die in Congress, perhaps in the Senate. If not, it will be interesting to see whether Obama would be willing to veto it. So far, the president has disappointed civil libertarian supporters who hoped that he would curb the War on Drugs. He has even reneged on his popular campaign promise to end federal medical marijuana prosecutions in states where medical marijuana is legal. Hopefully, this bill will be a bridge too far (or perhaps a joint too far) even for this administration.