U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., is one of three co-sponsors of a bill by a Tennessee congressman that proposes to put anyone convicted of smuggling the drug fentanyl into the United States in prison for life.
For the last several years, there has been plenty of fentanyl smuggling going on. A press release from Guest’s office quoted information from the group Families Against Fentanyl, which says overdoses of the synthetic opioid have become the leading cause of death for American adults aged 18 to 45.
The smuggling is increasing. The press release cited U.S. Customs information that said seizures of illegal fentanyl increased by 134% during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2021, compared to the year before.
Fentanyl is no laughing matter. A legal drug, it is many times stronger than heroin, and it’s blended with other illegal narcotics to increase their impact. The problem is that the people lacing the drugs don’t really care how much fentanyl they put in, and it only takes a few milligrams to put a user’s life at risk.
Many of fentanyl’s ingredients appear to come from China. They are compounded in Mexico, and then smuggled across the American border, where our never-ending market of people seeking a high eagerly awaits.
The sentiment of Guest and the other congressmen to punish fentanyl smugglers with life sentences is understandable. But we have been fighting this War on Drugs for 50 years, ever since Richard Nixon was president. And if we have learned anything from the inability to convince more buyers to just say no, it’s that the profit motive of selling illegal drugs gives plenty of people the incentive to take the risk. Drug policy needs to focus more on treating addiction.
The text of the proposed legislation was not available online Monday, but some obvious legal questions come to mind.
First is the matter of proportion. Is it fair to give someone who smuggles a small amount of fentanyl into the country one time the same life sentence as a repeat large-scale smuggler?
Does the United States really want its drug policy to include a one-strike-and-you’re-out clause? Or do fentanyl smugglers deserve the chance to change their ways?
And do we want to take this much sentencing discretion away from judges? Mandatory sentences have helped overload our state and federal prison systems.
Rep. Tim Burchett, the Tennessee Republican who introduced the bill, said in Guest’s press release that Congress should no longer shrug off criminal activity that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans in drug overdoses in recent years.
Fair enough. But it’s not just smuggled fentanyl that’s killing drug addicts. There are all sorts of domestic villains as well. Many are illegal, but other medication, specifically prescription opioid pain relievers, have played a deadly role as well. How come nobody’s talking about life prison sentences for that?
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal