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By Anders Hagstrom
Four conservative groups are calling for the dismissal of Republican-led law expanding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ power to set criminal drug penalties, according to a letter that The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained Tuesday.
The bill, HR 2851, seeks to “stop the importation and trafficking of synthetic” drugs, dangerous alternatives to cocaine, LSD and other street drugs. Advocates of the bill argue that stricter sentencing is the most effective means of reducing drug use, but the conservative groups that signed Tuesday’s letter call for expanding treatment programs and focusing on the international drug trade.
“Harsh penalties do not deter people with substance use disorders from using drugs. People use drugs because they have a chemical dependence and often feel that they will not be caught,” the letter reads. “Believing that harsh penalties will deter drug use misunderstands addiction. Since the 1980s, we have had tough penalties for heroin use and distribution, yet heroin consumption has actually increased.”
Under the law, if Sessions finds that banning a substance would prevent its abuse, he will be allowed to issue a temporary order adding it to “Schedule A,” a list of illegal substances, so long as the drug’s chemical makeup is “substantially similar” to that of a substance already on the list. (RELATED: Bill Allowing Jeff Sessions To Criminalize More Drugs Meets Massive Opposition)
While the conservative groups argue the power “misunderstands addiction,” Republican Rep. John Katko of New York, who introduced the bill, argues that the powers granted to the AG are essential because the Schedule A list needs to be able to adapt quickly to the development of new synthetic drugs.
“Currently, manufacturers and distributors of these substances are able to slightly alter the chemical structure of drugs to avoid law enforcement scrutiny and prosecution,” Katko explained in a statement when he announced the bill.
Aside from Sessions’ new power, the legislation adds 13 varieties of fentanyl to Schedule A, a hyper-potent synthetic drug increasingly mixed with heroin which can kill an adult with a dose as little as 3 milligrams.
The House Judiciary Committee will vote on the legislation Wednesday.