WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. customs and border security agents would be banned from seizing prescription drugs that Americans import from Canada under a measure passed by the Senate on Tuesday.
The Senate voted 68-32 in favor of the provision, with supporters saying the federal government should stay out of the way of Americans seeking cheaper medicines in Canada for personal use. Many Americans import prescription drugs from abroad even though the practice is illegal.
"I don't think ... taking away small amounts of prescription drugs from seniors crossing back from Canada, et cetera, is the right thing do," said Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who sponsored the amendment to a Department of Homeland Security funding bill.
Whether it will become law is uncertain. Similar language cleared the U.S. House of Representatives in May, but both chambers must agree on a final version before sending it to President George W. Bush to decide whether to sign it.
The Bush administration has opposed congressional efforts to allow importation of lower-cost medicines from Canada or other countries, saying the drugs could be dangerous. Critics say Bush and other opponents exaggerate the risks to protect drug industry profits.
"It's not an issue of defending the drug industry. It's an issue of making sure that the person who gets that (imported) drug is actually getting what they paid for (and) he's getting something that's safe," New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg said.
Gregg also said the measure would create "a massive hole in our borders and our ability to protect ourselves." He said terrorists could hide biological weapons such as anthrax in prescription drug bottles.