Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) proposed a bill last week that would allow federal prosecutors to bring conspiracy charges against U.S. citizens for planning activities abroad that would violate U.S. drug laws.
“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,” Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Huffington Post. “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.”
Besides being difficult to legally enforce, this bill would place unnecessary extraterritorial legal restrictions on Americans and overexert our judicial system.
The goals of Smith’s bill can already be accomplished through existing laws without questioning the jurisdiction of the U.S. legal system. The Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act is designed to curb drug trafficking, and it is already illegal to conspire to commit crimes. According to uslegal.com, the main elements needed to prove conspiracy are “a voluntary agreement to participate and some overt act by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the criminal plan.”
According to the Huffington Post, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a case in 2007 where two cocaine smugglers planned to traffic drugs from Colombia to Saudi Arabia to Europe because the crime was not going to be committed on U.S. soil, even though it was planned in Miami.
This bill would enable legal prosecution of their conspiracy, but it would also net far more than big drug smugglers. Casual drug users, as well as those who engage in the popular practice of buying cheap prescription medication from Canada and Mexico, would be equally susceptible to this law.
Getting access to evidence, such as online information or financial records, would require a warrant with reasonable cause, according to the Warshak v. U.S. court case. It’s possible authorities searching through computers and search engine queries could be enough to produce evidence of a conspiracy. Yet, the bill also presents potent opportunities for abuse of power, particularly for those who may look suspicious to Homeland Security.
Currently, the main extraterritorial law upheld by U.S. and international law is the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act, which was passed in 1994, according to thefuturegroup.com.
The law governs sex tourism, particularly in regard to sex with children as defined by the U.S., even if the crime is not illegal in countries where the sex acts take place. While global attitudes toward sexual abuse of children are generally consistent, attitudes toward drug use are not. Portugal and the Netherlands have famously liberal drug laws.
It seems this extraterritorial bill seeks to export U.S. drug prohibitions and create legal barriers to protect pharmaceutical companies. However, it also imposes a moral stance against drug use on its citizens abroad. It is not necessary to prosecute Americans for legal acts in foreign countries. Our judicial system is busy enough trying crimes committed on our own soil.