Statement on House Energy & Commerce Committee Passing Dangerous Bill to Ramp up Drug War Punishment

Statement March 24, 2023
Media Contact

Contact: 
Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
[email protected]

Washington, D.C. – March 22, 2023 – Today, the House Energy & Commerce Committee passed the Halt All Lethal Trafficking of Fentanyl (HALT) Act (H.R. 467) out of committee (26 yea, 19 nay). This legislation would ramp up mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl-related substances. It would also permanently schedule all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I without first testing them for benefits or harm.  

By putting fentanyl-related substances on Schedule I, they are criminalized the most harshly. Criminalization has led to a stronger, more potent illicit drug supply.  Of the few fentanyl-related substances tested on a limited basis by the FDA, at least one showed properties similar to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone. Others were found to be completely harmless and should never have been classified as Schedule I. Under this legislation, people will be criminalized regardless of the science. Yet, members of Congress continue to double down on the disproven, failed approach of drug prohibition at the expense of people’s lives.  

In response, Maritza Perez Medina, Director of the Office of Federal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, released the following statement: 

“We all want to turn the tide on the overdose crisis, which has already claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors. But increasing drug war criminalization is a disproven, failed strategy. The reason illicit fentanyl analogues have overtaken our drug supply is because of crackdowns on heroin. Now, the classwide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances is leading to even more potent opioids and tranquilizers as a result.  

“By voting in favor of a version of the HALT Fentanyl Act that doubles down on mandatory minimums, proponents of permanent class-wide scheduling are showing their true colors. The goal is not to address the overdose crisis and keep people alive. The goal is to grandstand using tough-on-crime rhetoric of the past to control communities and provide a false sense of safety. This approach is not only counterproductive to addressing the issue of overdose, but it will continue to disproportionately impact Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities because of targeted enforcement and oversurveillance. 

“We call on other House members and the Senate to reject fearmongering and criminalization. Congress must oppose this unprecedented and dangerous approach of making classwide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances permanent. To do this without even testing these substances for medical potential and harm is not only irresponsible, but also undoes decades of effort to reduce senseless drug war punishment, racial inequity and mass incarceration. And it risks creating a far stronger, more potent, more unpredictable illicit drug supply.  

“If Congress is serious about saving lives, they must center a public health approach to the overdose crisis and fentanyl.”  

Earlier this week, a coalition of non-partisan national, state and local civil rights, public health, drug policy, faith, law enforcement, criminal legal reform, and public policy research organizations sent a letter to House leadership urging them to reject this proposal and instead support bills like the Support, Treatment, and Overdose Prevention of Fentanyl (STOP Fentanyl) Act of 2021 (H.R. 2366) and the Test Act. The STOP Fentanyl Act proposes increased access to harm reduction services and substance use disorder treatment, improved data collection, and other evidence-based methods to reduce overdose. The TEST Act would require the federal government to test all fentanyl-related substances that are currently classified as Schedule I substances and remove those that are proven medically beneficial or otherwise unharmful. It would also require the attorney general to notify any person who has been wrongly convicted, or sentenced, of the change. 

For more information on fentanyl and why we need a public health approach to address the overdose crisis, visit drugpolicy.org/fentanyl

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