LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 467, the HALT Fentanyl Act, in a 289-133 vote. According to Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga (MI-04), this legislation, which he cosponsored, would permanently classify fentanyl-related substances as a Schedule 1 narcotic. He also says it would “increase law enforcement’s ability to get these deadly drugs out of our communities.”
The White House had on Monday, put their backing behind the bill which will increase the penalties for trafficking fentanyl and they said in a statement, “The Administration calls on Congress to pass all of these critical measures to improve public safety and save lives.”
Passing permanent legislation to make fentanyl a Schedule 1 drug would make the drug subject to the country’s toughest federal prison terms and penalties. Opposing the legislation were a majority of the Democrats in the House including four from Michigan – Debbie Dingell (MI-06), Haley Stevens (MI-11), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12) and Shri Thanedar (MI-13).
Huizenga said in a statement about the bill, “As the top legislative priority for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), this legislation would help enforcement agencies adapt to the fact that cartels are smuggling not just fentanyl, but similar fatal formulations called ‘fentanyl-related substances (FRS).’”
About his support for the bill, Huizenga said, “Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for adults ages 18-49, and sadly, we have experienced the deadly impact of Fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances in communities across Southwest Michigan. The HALT Fentanyl Act will help provide law enforcement with the tools and resources necessary to keep our communities safe and save lives by getting this deadly breed of drug off our streets.”
On the other side of the aisle, were many Democrats and also criminal justice reform groups and civil rights organizations who opposed the legislation. The Human Rights Watch, along with more than 150 groups, sent a letter to Congress before the vote to urge them to vote against the legislation, saying, “The HALT Fentanyl Act expands mandatory minimums for both foreign importation crimes and domestic drug distribution offenses, including nonviolent drug distribution involving small quantities of drugs. What’s more, by automatically scheduling a huge swathe of substances in one fell swoop, the HALT Fentanyl Act would lead to very real criminal justice consequences, posing an unacceptable risk of unnecessary incarceration for substances that carry no potential for abuse.”
Among the list of the groups opposing the legislation include the ACLU, Color of Change, Equal Justice USA, Hip Hop Caucus, Juvenile Law Center, Michigan People’s Campaign, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Council or Churches, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Organization for Women, and The Sentencing Project.
The four Michigan congressional reps did not speak on the House floor during the debate before the vote and have currently not released any statements about the reasoning behind their votes. However, several Democrats who voted against the legislation have gone on the record, including Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove of California, who said it will result in jail time for “Black and Brown” people and expand mass incarceration.