Beware of Different Drug Laws

About two years ago, Toyota made headlines by appointing its first foreigner to an executive position. Even more impressive, the American, Julie Hamp, was also a woman. Three months later, the woman was arrested on drug charges which were dropped after her resignation. Her crime? Her father in the U.S. had shipped her a supply of her prescription pain reliever, oxycodone, which is tightly controlled in Japan. It’s not unusual for foreigners to be detained for traveling to Japan without special approval for drugs they use at home. Suspects can be held for more than three weeks without formal charges.

A more serious situation has just occurred to a British woman who was traveling to Egypt to meet her husband. She was bringing him Tramadol and naproxen (Aleve) for his back pain. She has been arrested and held in a 15x15 cell with 25 other prisoners for the month. She can be sentenced to 25 years imprisonment or even execution.

A few years ago during a trip to London, I was amazed to find pain relievers with codeine being openly sold at pharmacies. I bought a small packet just to see if I would be asked to fill out forms or show identification. I wasn’t. However, coming through U.S. customs I have to admit that I was nervous that I might have issues about carrying a controlled substance into the country.

The Japanese and British situations are, admittedly, extreme examples of the need to be aware that there are different laws concerning drugs – especially narcotics – in other countries and the consequences can be severe.

While most of us don’t have the opportunity to travel internationally, there are unexpected situations occurring in the U.S.

There are about 30 states and D.C. that have some form of marijuana legalization –for medical and/or recreational use. But just because you can obtain (and consume) marijuana in that jurisdiction, doesn’t mean that you can transport it to an area where it is not legal or even fly to another state where it is legal. As the New York Times reports, “legal” ends at the airport. It is illegal to have marijuana in the secure areas of the airport or to fly with marijuana, both of which come under federal jurisdiction. Normally if someone is found to have a small amount of marijuana in their possession at the airport, local authorities are called in. One major exception is if you’re returning to the U.S. from an international trip and you have to clear Customs and Border Protection inspection which is specifically designed to look for illegal drugs and other contraband.

Beyond the legal ramifications, you should be aware that many employers require drug tests either as a condition of employment, on an ongoing random basis, or both. Just because you may have consumed marijuana or prescription narcotics legally does not exempt you from your employer’s drug policies. You may be required to show a prescription if any narcotics appear in your drug screen.

Our current U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has gone on record opposing marijuana legalization. This will no doubt be in direct conflict with the medical community that has continued to discover beneficial applications of marijuana compounds.

Even with the unprecedented (and IMHO, unreasonable) war on opioids, we Americans still enjoy legal availability of a wide range of medications. We all need to be aware that this legality doesn’t necessarily travel to other countries and sometimes not even to other states.

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