The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would designate derivatives of fentanyl as Schedule I narcotic drugs under federal law, raising the civil and criminal penalties for its use, over the objections of left-leaning groups.
The HALT Fentanyl Act, introduced in January, would add “any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of a fentanyl-related substance” to Schedule I, the highest prohibited drug classification under the Controlled Substances Act. Some fentanyl substances are currently classified as Schedule II drugs, and the bill would place all fentanyl substances in Schedule I, along with narcotics such as heroin, LSD, cannabis, ecstasy and peyote.
The bill passed by a vote of 289-133, with 74 Democrats voting in favor. Some Democrats and left-leaning interest groups have opposed the bill, which would entail greater penalties for the possession, use and sale of fentanyl, such as a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years‘ imprisonment for manufacturing or distributing any substance containing fentanyl, which often includes other non-Schedule I drugs laced with fentanyl and sold by traffickers.
“The classwide scheduling that this bill would impose would exacerbate pretrial detention, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in the prison system, doubling down on a fear-based, enforcement-first response to a public health challenge,” wrote the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy about the bill. Similarly, over 158 non-governmental organizations wrote to oppose the bill, writing that “structurally related substances [to fentanyl] can often have complementary therapeutic values.”
The Biden administration, however, has supported the bill. In a statement, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) wrote that the bill was among “critical components” of the administration’s drug policy that was necessary to “improve public safety and save lives.”
Along with raising penalties and classification, the bill reforms the process of research into fentanyl-related substances, which requires a permit and entails restrictions. There is a provision for “Expedited Procedures” in the bill allowing researchers to obtain permits more quickly.
The bill was sponsored by Republican Reps. Morgan Griffith of Virginia and Bob Latta of Ohio. In a joint statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation, Griffith said, “[t]he bill promotes research of fentanyl analogues in the hopes of finding medicinal uses,” and urged the Senate to pass it. Latta said, “[i]llicit fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for people in the United States aged 18 to 49. That’s why I have been championing the HALT Fentanyl Act.”
The House also considered three amendments to the bill. One such amendment by Democratic Rep. Brittaney Pettersen of Colorado would have prevented the bill from taking effect until it could be certified that it would reduce overdose deaths – echoing some Democratic concerns that it would exacerbate the “war on drugs.” It failed by a vote of 233-190, with several Democrats voting against it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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