FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Congress’ Drug Waltz

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

The Congress doesn’t run-it waltzes.

–Charles Joseph, Comment to Comte Auguste de LaGardeChambonas (1814)

Congress is not as idle as it may seem.  Whereas much of the publicity it is getting suggests it is not getting anything done,  that is because the things it has not accomplished tend to be more interesting than the things a few of its committees have  gotten done.  The House Judiciary Committee is an example of this.   As has been observed here and elsewhere, in July it addressed the vexing problem confronted by peripatetic armed citizens.

Constitutionally armed citizens are confronted by a plethora of state laws covering concealed weapons.  Each time they cross a state line bearing concealed weapons they fear they may be in violation of the law of the state they are entering and that fear impinges on their rights to freely travel around the country. To remedy that, in July  the House Judiciary Committee passed the National Right-to-carry Reciprocity Act of 2011 in July.  If enacted by Congress all rules pertaining to concealed weapons will come from the federal government and not from individual states.   The Judiciary Committee has now passed amendments to the criminal code that, if enacted by Congress,  will fix a problem that was created by United States vs. Ivan Lopez-Vanegas et al. ,  a case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit  decided in 2007.

In Lopez the Court reversed the conviction of Mr. Lopez who was convicted of a conspiracy to possess, with the intent to distribute,  cocaine.  Mr. Lopez and his colleagues were assisting Prince Nayef bin Fawwaz al-Shaalan, the son-in-law of the Saudi Vice Minister of Defense (who is the brother of the former king of Saudi Arabia) by coordinating the purchase of cocaine.  Two tons of  cocaine were purchased in Colombia and transported on a plane owned by the Saudi royal family to Europe where all but 840 grams was distributed. (The Prince is a wealthy member of the royal Saudi family who owns oil interests in Colombia and Venezuela and the court does not explain why he was selling cocaine.)  French authorities seized the 840 grams two weeks after its arrival in France.  Following its seizure Mr. Lopez and others were apprehended and tried and in Mr. Lopez’s case, convicted.

The extent of Mr. Lopez’s activities in the United States consisted of hotel meetings that planned the operation.  The cocaine was never in the United States.  The government charged Lopez with violating two sections of the United States Code that, read together, make it a crime “to conspire to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, such as cocaine.”   He was convicted in the trial court but  his conviction was reversed on appeal.  The court found that since none of his activities involved possessing or distributing cocaine within the United States,  Code sections relied on did not apply to him.  That was the end of the matter until September 2011.

For four years, Congressman Lamar Smith, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, had contemplated the effect of the decision.

By September 2011 he had decided that it was inimical to the best interests of the United  States for a violation of the Controlled Substances Act to apply only if the controlled substance was in the United States. Accordingly he proposed a bill that was passed by the Judiciary Committee on October 6.  It “amends the Controlled Substances Act to  clarify that persons who enter into a conspiracy within the United States to possess or traffic illegal controlled substances outside the United States, or engage in conduct within the United States to aid or abet drug trafficking outside the United States, may be criminally prosecuted in the United States. . . .”

The bill was baptized the “Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011” and does not distinguish between controlled substances that are legal in the country where the distribution is to take place and those that are illegal in that country.  Thus if someone in the United States enters into negotiations for the purchase and sale of a drug that is legal in the country in which the transaction is taking place, that individual can nonetheless be prosecuted in the United States.

The democrats on the committee tried to amend the bill to provide that it only applied if the controlled substance was illegal in both countries.  The Republicans set aside their dislike of the ever-expanding role of the federal government in the lives of ordinary citizens and retained language that caused the amendment apply to as many people as possible.

Commenting on the bill, a civil rights lawyer and author, Harvey Silverglate, said:  “Just when you think you can’t get any more cynical, a bill like this comes along.  It just sounds like an abomination.  [T]here’s no intuitive reason for an American to think that planning an activity that’s perfectly legal in another country would have an effect on America. . . . [T]his is just an act of shameless cultural and legal imperialism.  It’s just outrageous.”

He’s right.  Of course it is nice to see that occasionally a Congressional Committee can actually pass legislation, even if it’s bad.  It shows that at least one part of the Congress is not doing nothing.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail