Safety and Travel
(Adapted from the U.S. Department of State's Special Warning about Drug Offenses Abroad (http://travel.state.gov/travel/living/drugs/drugs_1237.html)).
Michigan State University has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the possession, use, manufacture, production, sale, exchange, or distribution of illegal drugs by students participating in MSU study abroad programs. The determination of whether or not a drug is illegal is governed by U.S. federal drug laws, the laws of the State of Michigan, and host country laws. Violation of this policy may result in (a) immediate dismissal from the program; (b) academic withdrawal from the university for the semester in progress; and (c) disciplinary action upon return to campus.
Each year, 2,500 U.S. citizens are arrested abroad. One-third of the arrests are on drug-related charges. Many of those arrested assumed that as a U.S. citizen they could not be arrested. From Asia to Africa, Europe to South America, U.S. citizens are finding out the hard way that drug possession or trafficking equals jail in foreign countries.
There is very little that anyone can do to help you if you are caught with drugs. You are operating under the laws of the host country and the regulations of the local institution. Neither the U.S. government nor Michigan State University will be able to secure your release should you be caught.
It is your responsibility to know the drug laws of a foreign country before you go, because saying "I didn't know it was illegal" will not get you out of jail. Some laws may be applied more strictly to foreigners than to local citizens; therefore, don't assume that just because local people are using drugs, it's acceptable for you to use drugs.
The rules and regulations of your host institution will be provided during on-site orientation.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of women arrested abroad. These women serve as drug couriers or "mules" in the belief that they can make quick money and have a vacation without getting caught. Instead of a short vacation, they get a lengthy stay or a life sentence in a foreign jail.
U.S. Americans have been arrested abroad on drug charges for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. The risk of being put in jail for just one marijuana cigarette, or for other illegal substances, is not worth it.
If you are purchasing prescription medications in quantities larger than that considered necessary for personal use, you could be arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking.
Once you're arrested, the U.S. consular officer CANNOT get you out of jail!
You may say "it couldn't happen to me," but the fact is that it could happen to you if you find yourself saying one of the following:
- "I am a U.S. citizen and no foreign government can put me in their jail."
- "If I only buy or carry a small amount, it won't be a problem."
If you are caught using illegal drugs by MSU on-site personnel, you may be immediately dismissed from the Michigan State University study abroad program. If you are caught by local authorities buying, selling, carrying, or using drugs - from hashish to heroin, marijuana to mescaline, cocaine to quaaludes, to designer drugs like ecstasy - it could mean:
- interrogation and delays before trial, including mistreatment and solitary confinement for up to one year under very primitive conditions and delays before trial including mistreatment and solitary confinement for up to one year under very primitive conditions
- lengthy trials conducted in a foreign language, with delays and postponements
- weeks, months, or life in prison (some places include hard labor, heavy fines, and/or lashings), if found guilty
- the death penalty in a growing number of countries (e.g., Malaysia and Pakistan)
Although drug laws vary from country to country, it is important to realize before you make the mistake of getting involved with drugs that foreign countries do not react lightly to drug offenders. In some countries, anyone who is caught with even a very small quantity for personal use may be tried and receive the same sentence as the large-scale trafficker.
A few words to the wise...
- A number of countries, including the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Philippines, have enacted more stringent drug laws that impose mandatory jail sentences for individuals convicted of possessing even small amounts of marijuana or cocaine for personal use.
- Once you leave the United States, you are not covered by U.S. laws and constitutional rights.
- Bail is not granted in many countries when drugs are involved.
- The burden of proof in many countries is on the accused to prove his/her innocence.
- In some countries, evidence obtained illegally by local authorities may be admissible in court.
- Few countries offer drug offenders jury trials or even require the prisoner's presence at his/her trial.
- Many countries have mandatory prison sentences of seven years to life without the possibility of parole for drug violations.
- If someone offers you a free trip and some quick and easy money for just bringing back a suitcase...SAY NO!
- Don't carry a package for anyone, no matter how small it might seem.
- The police and customs officials have a right to search your luggage for drugs. If they find drugs in your suitcase, YOU will suffer the consequences.
- You could go to jail for years with no possibility of parole, early release, or transfer back to the United States.
- Don't make a jail sentence part of your study abroad experience.