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Illegal drugs

Arizona State University has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the possession, use, manufacture, production, sale, exchange, or distribution of illegal drugs by students participating in ASU Global Education 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 Arizona, 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.

For Your Consideration

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 Arizona 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.

In recent years, 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 ASU faculty/staff or other on-site personnel, you may be immediately dismissed from the Global Education 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

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 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 protected 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 ASU Global Education experience.

About Medical Marijuana

According to U.S. Federal law you cannot fly on a commercial airliner with marijuana or marijuana-containing products, even if you have a doctor's written prescription for medical marijuana or an Arizona Medical Marijuana Program ID Card. Possession of marijuana in a U.S airport, in U.S. airspace or on an airplane carries a punishment of  up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction.  For each subsequent conviction, the sentences and penalties increase. 

In addition, many countries consider marijuana to be illegal.  Students with a U.S. prescription for marijuana can be arrested, prosecuted, and/or deported, if in possession of an illegal substance abroad. Never travel internationally with any amount of medical marijuana unless you want to take the risk of being detained, arrested and charged, deported, missing your flight, and having your medicine confiscated.


Marijuana eCHECKUP TO GO is a marijuana-specific brief assessment and feedback tool designed to reduce marijuana use among college students. The assessment takes about 10-15 minutes to complete, is self-guided and requires no face-to-face contact time with a counselor or administrator.

Open Call and Chat is a free telehealth service provided through ASU Counseling Services. All ASU students have 24/7/365 access to free mental health resources from anywhere in the world. Learn more or download the app (for android and IOS).

This content was adapted from the Michigan State University Office of Study Abroad, and the University of California Education Abroad Program.