Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who both supported a cut-back on some drug punishments in recent years, are preparing a bill that would create tough new penalties for people caught with synthetic opioid drugs, reports NPR. Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Feinstein is the panel’s ranking member. A draft suggests the plan would give the attorney general more power to ban all kinds of synthetic drugs, because criminals often change the recipe to evade law enforcement. It would impose a 10-year maximum sentence on people caught selling them as a first offense. That would double if they do it again. Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for lighter punishments for drug offenders, says the proposal is a bad idea.
“These synthetic drugs are added to heroin often outside the U.S., but the bill takes such a broad approach that it’s penalizing individuals who sell drugs at a low level inside the U.S., and so it’s going to do nothing to deter and stop the supply of drugs,” Collins said. “The problem is really we’ve been here before with this approach in terms of the war on drugs and ramping up sentences, and we know that escalating sentences … does nothing to help the opioid epidemic.” The Justice Department disagrees. Last week, federal prosecutors in Utah announced charges against a half-dozen people in suburban Salt Lake City. Authorities say two of them quit jobs at eBay to embark on a new enterprise. They allegedly ordered a version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl by mail from China, then pressed the drug into counterfeit pills and sold them online across the U.S.