STATEMENT: THE HONORABLE JOHN CONYERS, JR. FOR THE MARKUP OF H.R. 2851, THE “STOP THE IMPORTATION AND TRAFFICKING OF SYNTHETIC ANALOGUES ACT OF 2017”
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (MI-13) today gave the following statement during the markup of H.R. 2851, the “Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017.”
H.R. 2851, the “Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017,” is intended to address the problem of the illicit use of analog synthetic drugs.
This bill involves important issues concerning public health and safety, and also fairness in our criminal justice system.
While I appreciate the desire to protect our citizens from dangerous drugs, I must oppose this flawed bill.
I recognize that analogs to some synthetic drugs are dangerous and are harming our citizens – particularly young people.
Some of these modified, man-made substances are more potent, more dangerous, and oftentimes more deadly than the substances they are designed to mimic.
However, in addressing the dangers these drugs pose, I believe Congress must be careful in advancing any legislative response.
Unfortunately, H.R. 2851, although well-intended, is ultimately unwise for several reasons.
To begin with, this measure would give the Attorney General almost unfettered authority over the regulation of these substances.
While much of the conversation surrounding synthetic analogues focuses on the chemistry of the substances – from the process of manufacturing them to their effect on the human body – H.R. 2851 would eliminate vital scientific and medical evaluations normally undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration and do away with binding recommendations provided by the Department of Health and Human Services in scheduling drugs.
There are already statutory mechanisms in place to provide for the scheduling and regulation of new drugs that may be dangerous if misused. Those mechanisms require an appropriate degree of collaboration among the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Food and Drug Administration in scheduling synthetic analogues.
This is because each of these agencies are equally important to the scheduling process.
And under this bill, not only would the Attorney General hold the sole authority to schedule these substances, but he or she would also have the power to shape sentencing policy – without the input of the U.S. Sentencing Commission that is currently studying the issue of synthetic drugs and penalties.
Secondly, we must be cautious in our response to synthetic drugs and heed the lessons we learned from the fear-driven legislation enacted in response to crack.
For example, H.R. 2851 would establish lengthy, and sometimes mandatory minimum, penalties for certain offenses involving these analog drugs.
While mandatory minimum sentences give the appearance that we are taking strong action to address a problem, they are patently unjust as a matter of sentencing policy and are unnecessary to the imposition of appropriate sentences.
Indeed, extremely lengthy sentences are sometimes appropriately imposed by judges, but over-penalization through mandatory minimums is counterproductive and only contributes to our crisis of over-incarceration.
Also, this bill has the potential to chill medical research into substances that may be beneficial, or into alternative treatments for drug addiction.
We must be careful not to harm innovation and exploration into the development of new drugs that can actually help us.
In closing, I want to note that the Committee has received a letter from more than 65 advocacy organizations opposing this bill – including the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
Furthermore, we received a letter yesterday from a number of conservative groups opposing the bill. The signatories included Freedom Works, the American Conservative Union Foundation, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
We must not ignore their concerns as we consider approaching this issue through legislation.
Therefore, I must oppose this bill, and I ask my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to do the same today.
I yield back the balance of my time.