The White House on Thursday proposed removing certain penalties associated with trafficking of fentanyl-related substances (FRS), prompting criticism that it would weaken illicit drug enforcement.
President Biden and former President Trump temporarily placed FRS under schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Thursday’s proposal would make that change permanent while removing certain quantity-based mandatory minimums.
In a letter to Senate leaders reviewed by Fox News, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) described the plan as the result of collaboration with the Justice Department (DOJ) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“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.
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LaBelle added that “the 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.”
The letter came amid a spike in fentanyl deaths, which some Republicans have blamed on the administration’s border enforcement.
April of this year alone saw a 233% increase in fentanyl seizures at the southern border, according to data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Fentanyl, a dangerous opioid, is significantly stronger than heroin and the related opioid carfentanyl is even stronger than fentanyl.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., slammed the Biden administration’s proposal for being soft on criminals who are pushing fentanyl and killing Americans.
“Fentanyl analogues kill thousands of Americans each year. 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,” said Cotton in a statement to Fox News.
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A Senate aide also told Fox News the proposal wasn’t serious and would encourage illicit drug labs. “This is not a serious proposal. It’s nothing more than a compromise between mainstream Democrats and pro-crime Democrats, and would only encourage illicit Chinese drug labs to get creative again with new fentanyl variants,” the aide said.
The White House did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Thursday’s proposal raises questions about how the Biden administration will continue the previous president’s fight against an opioid epidemic that has ravaged communities across the U.S.
In May, Biden extended a rule from Trump’s DOJ by signing the Extending Temporary Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act, which lasts until Oct. 22.
LaBelle added that Congress should approve $41 billion in spending for national drug program agencies, as well as continue working on legislation designed to counter overdoses.
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“Expanding the nation’s public health approach to substance use disorders and strengthening our public safety efforts to reduce the drug supply are essential parts of our strategy to bringing down the rates of overdose death,” said LaBelle.
“Acting to permanently schedule FRS, combined with historic investments in the addiction infrastructure, as well as efforts to tackle illicit finance and disrupt drug trafficking, will stand as the most comprehensive effort to address substance use and its consequences in our nation’s history. In all these efforts, we look forward to working with Congress to support safe and healthy communities. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.”
Fox News’ Kelly Laco contributed to this report.