To little fanfare, President Barack Obama on May 16 signed into law the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act—further extending the global reach of U.S. narcotics enforcement. The law criminalizes manufacture of drugs anywhere in the world if the producers “intend, know, or have probable cause to believe” the substances will be illegally imported into the United States. The language has been attacked as over-broad, potentially applying to any link of the production chain—down to lowly peasant growers of cannabis, coca leaf or opium.
Co-sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein boasted in a press release: “Drug traffickers and criminal organizations in other countries consistently find new ways to circumvent our laws, and the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act gives the federal government the tools it needs to aggressively pursue and prosecute those outside the United States who traffic illegal—often deadly—drugs. This new legal authority is critical as we work to address the opioid epidemic. For example, drug kingpins from countries like Colombia and Peru often use Mexican trafficking organizations as mules to bring illegal narcotics into the United States. Now, the Justice Department will be able to take legal action against these kingpins. This bill also allows penalties to be imposed on individuals from other countries who bring chemicals into the United States knowing they will be used to make illegal drugs like meth and heroin. These changes will help law enforcement keep illegal narcotics out of the United States.”
The passage of the law actually won more press coverage in Colombia than the US. Colombian media raised the spectre of mass extradition of thousands of peasant cocaleros. The notion of mass extradition demands from Washington is especially sensitive as Colombia attempts to negotiate peace with the FARC rebels. A limited amnesty for guerilla fighters has been one of the most controversial points, and the FARC has made clear that extradition of its leaders would be a deal-breaker. It’s feared that US pressure to extradite FARC foot-soldiers and peasant supporters could sabotage the progress toward peace altogether.