The White House on Thursday proposed removing quantity-based penalties for trafficking in fentanyl-related substances, according to Fox News.
The proposal coincided with the Biden administration’s announcement that all fentanyl-related substances would be permanently scheduled under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s scheduling, drugs in schedule I “have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.”
Fentanyl itself is legal under schedule II — drugs which “have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence,” but can still be prescribed.
However, illegal drug manufacturers began creating designer versions based on the core fentanyl molecule, which were only banned as soon as they were discovered until the Trump administration temporarily classified all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I substances in 2018. The temporary scheduling period was coming to an end.
That scheduling will be made permanent, according to a proposal released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy on Thursday — but there’s a catch.
“We are pleased to present to Congress a long-term, consensus approach that advances efforts to reduce the supply and availability of illicitly manufactured FRS, while protecting civil rights, and reducing barriers to scientific research for all schedule I substances,” said ONDCP acting Director Regina LaBelle in a letter to Senate leaders obtained by Fox News.
LaBelle said, “[T]he proposal would exclude those FRS that are scheduled by class from certain quantity-based mandatory minimum penalties normally associated with domestic trafficking, and import and export offenses of CSA schedule I compounds.”
“It would further ensure that a federal court can vacate or reduce the sentence of an individual convicted of an offense involving an individual FRS that is subsequently removed or rescheduled from schedule I.”
It wouldn’t exempt “FRS offenses from existing mandatory minimums for cases where death or serious bodily injury can be directly linked to the FRS that was trafficked, as is the case for any other Schedule I or II controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(C),” according to LaBelle.
“The Justice Department reported only eight cases with FRS charges from the time temporary class scheduling was adopted in 2018 through December 2020, of which only a handful even included charges of quantity-driven mandatory minimums.”
Drug overdoses and seizures spike
Last year, drug overdoses spiked nearly 30 percent — and one drug in particular was to blame.
“The surge, the 2020 data show, was driven largely by a proliferation of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid whose use has spread across the nation,” The Wall Street Journal reported in July.
“The pandemic amplified the epidemic of overdoses, bringing on social isolation, trauma and job losses, according to addiction experts and treatment providers. Overdose deaths began rising in the fall of 2019 with the spread of fentanyl, but really took off starting in March 2020, when pandemic-driven shutdowns and physical-distancing measures set in.”
The White House’s move comes at a time of unprecedented fentanyl seizures at the southern border.
Border Patrol agents say there’s been a 4,000 percent increase in the El Paso Sector over the last three years, according to an NBC News report from June, and much of it is being smuggled through the desert, fueled in part by the chaotic situation on the US-Mexico border.
According to agents, the majority of fentanyl is trafficked through ports of entry. They found one pound of fentanyl outside of ports of entry in 2018, two pounds in 2019, and nine pounds in 2020. However, they’ve discovered 41 pounds outside of the ports of entry this year alone.
According to data from Customs and Border Protection, officials have seized 9,337 pounds of fentanyl entering the country so far this fiscal year. This compares to 4,791 pounds for the entire year of 2020 and 2,804 pounds for the entire year of 2019.
The fact that the Biden administration was ending quantity-based mandatory minimum sentences for those caught trafficking in fentanyl-related substances enraged several Republicans.
“Fentanyl analogues kill thousands of Americans each year,” Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton told Fox News in a statement. “To protect our communities from the dealers pushing this poison, President Biden needs to keep them off the streets, not let them off the hook.”