Police told them they could be facing years in prison for exporting narcotics.
Two and a half pounds of material found in their carry-on bag had tested positive for hashish. But they didn't have drugs. They had chocolate. So far, the couple's legal bills have topped $20,000.
The couple was caught up in what civil libertarians say is a growing problem -- the use of unreliable field drug-test kits as the basis to arrest innocent people on illegal drug charges.
The kits, which are used by most every police department in the U.S., and by federal agents in Customs at the nation’s borders, use powerful acids that react with the substance in a plastic pouch. If the liquid turns a certain color, it is a considered a positive result.
A positive result generally leads to an arrest.
But a number of legal products and plants test positive:
- chocolate for hashish
- rosemary for marijuana
- natural soaps for the "date-rape drug" GHB
With the growth of organic and natural foods and products, experts say arrests are likely to increase.
As organic products become more popular, the potential for civil rights violations using these inaccurate test kits at borders, and in police patrol cars, is enormous.
This is not the first time innocent people have been jailed and burdened with large legal fees over organic fare like chocolate, herbs, all natural soaps, and even deodorants.
Cornelius Salonis of Shakopee, Minn., spent two nerve racking months in jail after police stopped him for drunk driving. He admitted to the drunk-driving charge, but was “scared witless” over the drug charge that was slapped on top of it when a deodorant in his car tested positive for cocaine. Lab tests ultimately showed it did not contain the drug.
Punk rocker Don Bolles also spent three days in jail in Newport Beach, Calif., in April last year, after his Dr. Bronner"s soap tested positive for GHB during a police traffic stop. Again, further lab tests found no drugs in the soap and the charges were dropped.
According to government officials, there are no records on how many people have been wrongly arrested because of this field test, but it’s probably safe to assume it certainly can, and does happen with some frequency, as people tend to travel with their favorite products. These days, many have switched to organics.
As for Nadine Artemis and Ron Obadia, just two weeks shy of being cleared of their drug charges, the couple, who are founders of Living Libations, a company that makes organic and natural food and beauty products in Haliburton, Ontario, were charged with drug possession again. This time while crossing the border in Lewiston, N.Y., on their way to a natural health festival -- despite the fact that they were traveling with a lawyer, just in case!
Officers ran the drug test on the food and toiletries in their possession, and the chocolate again tested positive for drugs. Ditto for a bottle of tea tree oil (a natural antiseptic and antifungal). Mr. Obadia was subsequently arrested again, and is currently awaiting the lab results that will likely exonerate him a second time.
But is it really reasonable to subject our constitutional rights to a test that is so clearly limited, and will lead to an untold number of arrests simply for carrying an organic treat, or an organic personal care product?
According to Allen Miller of Forensic Source, maker of the NarcoPouch® 928 test kits, the tests are designed to find “families of chemical compounds,” and are not meant to be definitive. “Any arrest should be the result of good investigative police work,” he says.
But following up with a real, valid test, after receiving a fake positive in the field usually means spending time in jail, posting bail, and hiring an attorney – potentially in a foreign country, depending on whether you’re coming or leaving, and where you get “caught” with your organic stash.
According to retired FBI agent and forensics expert Dr. Frederick Whitehurst:
“There is no effort by the National Academies of Science to validate forensic science protocols, and there are no national standards for presumptive field drug tests.
I believe our freedoms are being infringed upon because of fake science.”
NarcoPouch is a Great Natural Soap Test
As it turns out, any true natural soap product -- such as soaps by Dr. Bronner, Tom’s and Pangea -- will test positive with the NarcoPouch test, as demonstrated in this video on Dr. Bronner’s website. As will many all natural deodorants. Says David Bronner,
“Our testing shows that real soaps, which are made using the ecological time-honored process of saponification of vegetable oil, will always test positive for GHB, while complicated synthetic detergent-based so-called ‘liquid soaps’ will test negative.”
Until these narcotic field tests have been re-formulated to give accurate results, and field agents can tell the difference between an organic personal care product and an illegal narcotic, I strongly recommend you avoid traveling across the U.S. border with any kind of all natural soap, deodorant, or any other item that may get flagged, such as tea tree oil, or organic chocolate.
You may also want to reconsider keeping these items in your car, in case you’re ever stopped and searched for a traffic violation.
It seems unreasonable, yes. But unless you’re willing to deal with that kind of hassle, think twice about what you pack when you travel.