Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) demanded Tuesday that the Biden administration provide an explanation for its "smear" of the Washington Free Beacon in response to its report on the administration's plan to fund drug paraphernalia such as crack pipes and syringes.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Cotton slammed the response from Becerra's agency that called the report on the government's $30 million harm reduction grant "blatant misinformation." The administration initially confirmed that it would fund smoking kits for crack addicts, but stated two days after publication of the article that it would not fund kits that actually included crack pipes.
Cotton said pipes "are usually the entire point" of smoking kits and that the Biden administration's response shows it "scrambled under pressure."
"What happened is obvious," Cotton wrote. "HHS planned to allow safe smoking kits to include crack pipes. You got caught, scrambled under pressure, and falsely accused the Free Beacon of 'misinformation.'"
The Arkansas senator asked HHS to provide all internal communications with grant applicants that mention the term "safe smoking kits," and demanded that HHS release all correspondence that led to the department's statement after the Free Beacon report.
Smoking kits have been distributed as part of "harm reduction" programs in numerous cities in recent years, and typically consist of a pipe and other drug paraphernalia.
Following Becerra's reversal, the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that supports harm reduction programs, expressed disappointment in the Biden administration for "backtracking" on its plan to fund the distribution of crack pipes.
"Backtracking on providing critical evidence-based resources that could greatly improve the health of people who consume drugs through smoking is a huge missed opportunity," the group said in a statement.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) introduced the Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems (PIPES) Act, which would prevent federal funds from going toward illegal drug paraphernalia. Rubio also introduced the Cutting Rampant Access to Crack Kits (CRACK) Act, which was cosponsored by more than a dozen other Republicans. The CRACK Act similarly bans purchases of drug paraphernalia through an amendment to the American Rescue Plan, which is the 2021 pandemic relief bill passed by Democrats that established the harm reduction grant program.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have vowed to take action to prevent crack pipe distribution plans. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) threatened to vote to shut down the government unless the Biden administration ensures no funding will go toward crack pipes.
On the House side, Reps. Lauren Boebert (R., Colo.) and Dan Bishop (R., N.C.) introduced the Halting the Use of Narcotics Through Effective Recovery (HUNTER) Act this week, which would also ban federal funds from being used for drug paraphernalia.