Issue 6: April 9, 2012
Clarifying the definition of "Contraband"
What do a stolen Rembrandt, a kilo of cocaine, and wooden bar stool have in common? Well, if the bar stool contains even one piece of wood that was secured in violation of any international law connected to the Lacey Act, it is considered “contraband” by the federal government. And as such, under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFFRA), it is subject to seizure with no legal recourse for the rightful owner to recover the product; just like cocaine, marijuana and stolen paintings—even if that person took every reasonable precaution to comply with the Lacey Act. While it seems a bit odd to say this, wood and wood products are fundamentally different from illegal drugs, and should not be automatically treated as contraband under the Lacey Act. It is this simple and logical conclusion that is at the core of the effort to improve the Lacey Act.
Unlike illegal drugs or an ivory ash tray, illegally sourced wood cannot be identified on sight. Illegality under Lacey stems from a violation of foreign laws and regulations, which differ from country to country. While one wood product may be considered an illegal import under Lacey, a wood product of the same species from another country may not. Further, unlike illicit drugs, wood is not inherently illegal to possess.
The Lacey Act was supposed to help law enforcement go after illegal logging crime syndicates, not innocent Americans. But as written, any business that exercised due care and had no knowledge that the seized products contained illegal wood has no standing in court to even argue their case. They have no chance of getting the seized product back, nor do they have any legal recourse to challenge a seizure under the Lacey Act. This is not what Congress intended.
IWPA, along with numerous other associations and interest groups, has been coordinating an approach to clarify the contraband application to plant and plant products. And our recommendation is very simple: the Lacey Act must make it clear that companies have the right to argue in court that they exercised due care to petition for the return of seized products consistent with civil forfeiture law.
These changes won’t help those who are knowingly violating Lacey Act provisions. It won’t help companies that don’t exercise due care in their sourcing. By clarifying the definition of contraband and giving honest business owners their day in court encourages due care—which is something we all support.
They Said It
“Honest business owners who willingly incur the high costs of complying with the Lacey Act must know that they have the right to seek the return of goods acquired through the exercise of due care but which nevertheless run afoul of some part of the Lacey Act’s prohibitions.” – Coalition Letter to Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN)
“It is crucial, that as [the Lacey] legislation is implemented, a clear distinction be drawn between ‘innocent’ owners in the supply chain who in good faith trade in wood products that they believe to be legally harvested abroad, and those who knowingly traffic in illegal material. It is the concern of Congress that this line be clearly drawn when prosecutions occur under this act.” – Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
“Having goods seized for an unwitting simple civil violation—without any legal recourse to retrieve their goods—is more than just an inconvenience. For many businesses, the result could be ruinous.” – Elizabeth Baldwin, Green Blog
“Under Lacey, the entire supply chain handling imported plant material is held responsible for illegal acts of which they would have no reasonable expectation to know the violation much less know the underlying laws that exist in all foreign countries. Amending the Lacey Act to include reaffirmation of CAFRA provides important forfeiture liability protection for `innocent owners.'” – Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC) Retired
The Green Blog
The Beginning Wood Worker
What Next? What do we need from you?
The effort to improve the Lacey Act is gaining speed. Please use this publication and the information provided to inform your customers, your suppliers, your friends and your neighbors. Refer to iwpawood.org for updates, and send anyone our way who wants to know more about our actions to protect the integrity and improve the functioning of Lacey. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome and appreciated. And your continued support is greatly appreciated.
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The Lacey Act and You bulletins are published through our voluntary Special Projects Fund. Please contact Cindy Squires for more information on how to support IWPA’s Special Projects.
The Lacey Act & You bulletins are published through IWPA's voluntary Special Projects Fund. Please contact Cindy Squires for more information. Special Projects. Contributors to date:
- Alan McIlvain Company
- American Pacific Inc
- Argo Fine Imports Inc.
- Baillie Lumber Co.
- Elizabeth Baldwin
- Bridewell Resources
- Brookside Veneers Ltd.
- Clarke Veneers & Plywood
- Columbia Forest Products
- Holland SW International
- IHLO Sales & Import Co
- International Specialties Inc
- John A. Steer Co.
- Liberty Woods International
- Newman Lumber Co.
- Pollmeier Inc.
- PRS Guitars
- Robert Weed Plywood Corp.
- South Jersey Port Corp.
- Spartan Sources
- Tradelink Wood Products
- UCS Forest Group
- VM International
- Wood Brokerage International