Biden Administration Proposes Eliminating Mandatory Minimums for Fentanyl Trafficking

The Biden administration recently proposed to Congress that fentanyl-related compounds be permanently categorized as a Schedule 1 drug, as overdoses continue to rise across the country. However, the new policy would exclude fentanyl from most quantity-based mandatory minimum sentences, which human rights organizations warn could increase “racial disparities” in the criminal justice system.

Fentanyl is a strong synthetic opioid that is often used as a cheap way to cut heroin or cocaine. The White House released a study in July that showed there were 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, with synthetic fentanyl being the main driver of the overdoses. Former President Trump temporarily placed fentanyl-related substances (FRS) on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances. President Biden said under the new proposal the adjustment would be made permanent while also abolishing some quantity-based statutory minimums.

In a letter sent to Senate leaders, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) director Regina LaBelle stated, “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.”

LaBelle also said that Congress should approve a $41 billion budget for national drug program agencies in addition to working on legislation designed to counter overdoses. Fox News reports that the ONDCP strategy was created in collaboration with the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas argued that eliminating the mandatory minimums was too soft on criminals. Cotton told Fox News, “Fentanyl analogs 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.”

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa stated, “For months, I’ve been calling on the Biden administration to get serious about combatting fentanyl knockoffs, which led to a record number of overdose deaths in the United States last year.”

Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to former President Trump, tweeted, “Open border + leniency for fentanyl trafficking. Is Biden at this point just trying to do as much damage as he can?”

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, fentanyl seizures at the southern border increased by 233% in April of this year. Fentanyl is substantially more potent than heroin, and carfentanil, a related opioid, is even stronger.


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