U.S. House Expected to Vote This Week on Fentanyl Bill Advocates Say Will Expand Use of Mandatory Minimums

Press Release January 27, 2020
Media Contact

Matt Sutton, 212.613.8026
[email protected]

Washington, D.C. – Today nearly 70 organizations representing civil rights, criminal justice, faith and drug policy communities sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi outlining concerns with a fentanyl-related bill that is expected to receive a vote on the House floor this week. The bill temporarily extends the Drug Enforcement Administration’s “class-wide” emergency scheduling of fentanyl-related substances. The Senate passed a similar bill on January 16th.

The letter asserts that “granting the Drug Enforcement Administration class-wide scheduling authority for fentanyl analogues will exacerbate already disturbing trends in federal drug prosecutions and incarceration levels and excise public health authorities from their critical role in promulgating drug policy.” 

The letter also warns that the emergency ban threatens to reverse progress on bipartisan sentencing reform efforts, including the passage just one year ago of the bipartisan First Step Act, that eased the length of some drug sentencing laws. Organizations are urging leaders in the House of Representatives to carve out mandatory minimums from the temporary extension which they plan to vote on as early as Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, January 28 at 10:00 a.m. est the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the measure as well. Witnesses are expected to testify that extending the emergency ban would harm sentencing reform efforts, exacerbate both mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal legal system and undermine efforts to mitigate the overdose crisis. 

The Department of Justice has sustained a months-long pressure campaign to push lawmakers to permanently extend the emergency ban that expires on February 6th, including a recent op-ed from Attorney General Barr. Legislation that would permanently extend the emergency ban stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee amidst bipartisan concerns and opposition by a broad coalition.  The Senate passed a 15-month extension, which the House is expected to vote on this week. 

Advocates have decried attempts by the Department of Justice to falsely characterize the February 6th expiration date as a deadline for lawmakers to act. Since 2014, the Department of Justice has increased fentanyl trafficking prosecutions by 4,700% using legal tools that would remain available following the expiration of the emergency ban. Federal sentencing data show that more than 50 percent of fentanyl trafficking cases brought by the Department of Justice involved low-level drug sellers and couriers, 85 percent did not know they were even in possession of fentanyl and 77 percent were people of color. 

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