House Passes Bill to Make Penalties Permanent for Fentanyl-Related Drugs

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that would permanently impose tougher criminal penalties and tighter controls on fentanyl-related drugs, with nearly all Democrats and Republicans joining the vote, reflecting the political challenges facing both parties. Considered America’s most stressful drug. crisis.

The bill, passed by a vote of 289 to 133, would permanently list fentanyl-related drugs as Schedule I controlled substances, a designation that carries harsh prison sentences for highly addictive, non-medicinal chemicals. gives, and which is now about to expire. 2024.

The bipartisan vote reflects agreement between a solid bloc of Republicans and Democrats that toughening penalties for fentanyl-related drugs is an essential component of the federal response to the crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl-related drugs were the cause of most of the illnesses. About 75,000 Synthetic Opioid Overdose Deaths in 2022

“We should vote to advance a bill that we agree with and that helps stop bad guys,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, Republican of Virginia and the bill’s author, said on the House floor. “Once a fentanyl analog is permanently made Schedule I, Congress can eliminate it and deal with the illegal crisis.”

But the implications of doing so remain deeply divided, leaving the fate of the legislation unclear in the Democratic-led Senate.

Many Democrats, along with public health and civil rights groups, note that tougher sentences for fentanyl-related drugs have increased incarceration rates and disproportionately affected people of color. They argue that further criminalizing them will exacerbate the crisis and have called for a public health response that includes better public education, more addiction treatment and rehabilitation services, as well as overdose prevention. is also included.

The White House last week came out in support of the House bill, while urging Congress to consider its other recommendations, including mandatory minimum sentences that would apply only in cases where the substance causes death or serious bodily injury. Can be linked to injury.

But on the House floor Thursday, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, largely denounced the GOP bill as “one-sided” and “a way to imprison us.” A futile effort.” of a public health crisis.”

“This war on drugs — mandatory sentencing, imprisoning everybody — hasn’t worked,” Mr. Pallone said. “It didn’t work on other drugs.”

Still, a large group of Democrats, some from competitive districts, stand behind the measure, eager to show they are working to address the synthetic opioid crisis at a time when There are times when Republicans have tried to portray their party as weak. Issue.

Representative Angie Craig of Minnesota, one of 74 Democrats who crossed party lines and supported the bill, said she was “not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.”

“We have an American crisis here, and I think what you saw from the White House is that they recognize that this is a crisis,” Ms. Craig said, noting Thursday’s bill. This is what the House might pass, and we’ll see what happens in the Senate.

The debate was just the latest and most focused battle over fentanyl in Congress, where the synthetic opioid crisis has figured prominently in other politically charged policy battles, such as how to deal with the growing threat from China. Go, and Bitter standoff over border security and immigration. Republicans in particular have cited the increase in fentanyl deaths across the country as a reason for immigration and curbing immigration. Impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas.Although the bulk of such drugs are brought in by U.S. citizens through ports of entry, the Homeland Security secretary said.

Under Schedule I, a person caught trafficking 10 grams of fentanyl will be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison, while a person found to be in possession of 100 grams will be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years. With some fentanyl analogs, a few milligrams can be a lethal dose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The legislation contains exceptions for drugs that are already listed elsewhere — such as fentanyl itself, which appears in Schedule II as an ingredient in various federally approved drugs — and potentially beneficial uses. For institutions conducting research on fentanyl analogs for

But Democrats expressed concern that the bill contained no guidelines for fentanyl-related drugs to later prove beneficial or to reduce or vacate the sentences of those convicted of related crimes.

A companion bill in the Senate so far has only Republican support, and Democratic leaders were unsure how many of their members could support the effort — especially after the White House’s statement supporting it. of

The Administration proposes to combine the permanent Schedule I designation of fentanyl-related drugs with the limited application of mandatory minimum sentences, as well as a mechanism for delisting fentanyl-related drugs that characterize the drugs. and to reduce or vacate any relevant criminal convictions. . It also called for a study of how permanent scheduling would affect research, civil rights and the illegal production and trafficking of fentanyl analogs.

Many of these proposals have been included in bipartisan bills that are still pending in Congress.

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