H.R.5231: Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2010
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The Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2010 (H.R. 5231), introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (the only House member to speak against reforming the racist crack/powder disparity), 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. An American treatment provider working with doctors in England, Denmark, Germany, or Switzerland to provide heroin assisted treatment and sterile syringes to heroin users in those countries could face arrest. As could an otherwise law-abiding American planning with some friends to use marijuana legally in the Netherlands while on vacation there. 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. Thus, it imposes America’s harsh drug policies on other countries, and further criminalizes a health issue. The bill’s title is very misleading. Even when applied against drug traffickers, The Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act would likely perpetuate injustice. Under U.S. drug conspiracy laws a person can be found guilty even when there are no drugs or other physical evidence involved. The uncorroborated word of someone pointing fingers to get a reduced sentence is all it takes. Moreover anyone convicted of being part of a drug conspiracy is punished not for the offense they actually committed but for all the offenses committed by members in the conspiracy. This has led to very low-level, impoverished, first-time offenders receiving sentences that are decades long. Conspiracy laws drive the so-called "girlfriend problem" whereby thousands of women every year are sentenced to harsh sentences for the crimes of their abusive partners. The United States houses 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its incarcerated population. This excess of incarceration is a direct result of punitive and ineffective drug laws, which are currently crippling our social and economic resources. Trends in the U.S. are shifting toward alternative sentencing and away from the policies developed in the almost forty years since Nixon declared the "War on Drugs." H.R. 5231 would be a detrimental step in the wrong direction.House Leadership should not bring this problematic bill up for a vote. It has only two cosponsors and wasn’t even considered in committee.
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