Smith and Schiff Introduce Drug Safe Harbor Elimination Act

Washington, DC - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced the Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act – legislation to close a loophole in U.S. drug enforcement laws and give law enforcement officials greater authority to prosecute individuals engaged in international drug trafficking conspiracies.

“Criminals who plot from within our borders to traffic drugs internationally should not be given a free pass just because the drugs they transport never enter the U.S.,” Chairman Smith said. “In order to protect Americans and combat the illegal drug trade, we must ensure that conspirators in the U.S. are brought to justice. We know that the illegal profits from these organizations fuel violence and fund terrorism around the world. And it is increasingly important to combat international drug cartels as the drug war in Mexico brings violence closer to home. This bill will close the dangerous loophole that allows international drug traffickers to avoid prosecution in the U.S.”

“In light of the destructive trade in drugs and guns between the U.S. and Mexico, it is more important than ever to eliminate any safe harbor for drug traffickers,” Rep. Schiff said. “This bipartisan bill closes a loophole in current law, giving law enforcement officials the ability to prosecute drug trafficking conspiracies conducted in the U.S., even if many of the illegal acts occur outside our borders."

This legislation comes in response to a 2007 decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the case, the defendants were convicted of a conspiracy to transport cocaine from Venezuela to Paris for distribution in Europe. The defendants appealed the conviction on the grounds that the objective of the conspiracy was to procure and distribute cocaine on foreign soil, and as such was not a violation of U.S. law. The government argued that because actions and meetings to further the conspiracy took place on U.S. soil (in Miami), they were subject to punishment under the title.

The 11th Circuit overturned the conviction, finding that Congress’s lack of specific guidance on whether the statute should extend to drug trafficking outside the United States necessitated a dismissal. The legislation introduced today will clarify Congressional intent that conspiring to traffic in drugs in the United States is a Federal offense, regardless of where other parts of the conspiracy take place.

This bill was introduced in the 111th Congress, when it passed the House as a companion bill to legislation introduced in the Senate by Senators Kent Conrad and Jeff Sessions. Although it did not pass the Senate to become law during the 111th Congress, the Congressmen hope it will pass during the 112th Congress.