Republican Senators Propose Harsher Sentences for Fentanyl

Tom Cotton
Tom Cotton / Getty Images
June 5, 2019

A cadre of Republican U.S. senators floated a bill Wednesday to substantially increase federal mandatory minimums for those convicted of trafficking the super-deadly opioid fentanyl.

Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), John N. Kennedy (La.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) filed the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2019 Act. If approved, the bill would shift the mandatory minimum schedule for fentanyl, substantially lowering the threshold amount required to trigger a mandatory minimum.

Specifically, according to information provided by Cotton's office, under current law 40 grams of a substance including fentanyl triggers a five-year minimum and 400 grams triggers a 10-year minimum. Under the law proposed by the Republican quartet, these numbers would be reduced to two grams and 20 grams, respectively.

"All it takes is an amount of fentanyl weighing less than a sprinkle of sugar to kill someone," Kennedy said. "Our sentencing laws have to reflect the potency of this drug in order for us to get it off the streets."

Indeed, fentanyl—a synthetic opioid made from simple precursors but designed to mimic the effects of organic or semisynthetic opioids like oxycodone—is substantially stronger than other opioids of abuse, like heroin. Other analogs of fentanyl, like the elephant tranquilizer carfentail, are even stronger. Under the EFCA, the five- and 10-year thresholds for analog smuggling would be reduced 10 grams to 0.5 grams and 100 to five grams, respectively.

This is not the first time that Republicans, especially Cotton, have pushed to enhance mandatory minimums for fentanyl dealing. The Arkansas senator introduced another version of the EFCA last year; he also worked to close loopholes in the FIRST STEP Act that could have reduced sentences for fentanyl traffickers.

The reason for this crackdown is because of the insane deadliness of fentanyl. The drug was involved in nearly 30,000 overdose deaths in 2017 alone, a figure that is likely to have continued rising into 2018. It is the single deadliest drug of abuse currently in circulation.

"But while the epidemic has spiraled," Cotton said, "our drug laws have been stuck in the past. This bill will make sure, when it comes to opioid distribution and trafficking, the punishment fits the crime."

Published under: Opioids