Bill Advances Despite Strong Opposition from Major Criminal Justice and Conservative Groups
Advocates: Tough Sentences for Heroin Didn’t Stop the Opioid Crisis and Won’t Work for New Drugs
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that greatly expands the penalties for new drugs and gives Attorney General Jeff Sessions unilateral new powers to schedule drugs.
Opponents warned that the legislation will enable Attorney General Sessions to ban hundreds of substances and then prosecute people in violation of the new drug laws he just created with long federal prison terms.
They also pointed out that the legislation is a counterproductive approach to the opioid crisis that will exacerbate mass incarceration.
In late 2015, this same committee had voted overwhelmingly to advance the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015, which reduced drug sentencing penalties.“Tough sentences and expanding the drug war will not stop demand for drugs; only public health approaches that emphasize treatment and education can do that,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
The bill, known as the “Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017,” or “SITSA,” creates a new drug schedule in the federal Controlled Substances Act for drug analogues and gives the Attorney General sweeping new powers to both temporarily and permanently ban any substance that is chemically similar to a drug that is already banned under federal law.
To do this, the bill proposes circumventing a long standing federal law that requires the Attorney General to obtain a scientific evaluation and recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services before a substance can be scheduled.
During a recent House Judiciary hearing on the bill, a witness for the Drug Enforcement Administration acknowledged in testimony that current mechanisms for prosecuting analogue cases are “workable” and existing federal laws already permit the Attorney General to emergency schedule substances.