Taking the fentanyl crisis seriously, a legislative proposal

With 30,000 Americans a year dying from fentanyl, and likely more from other drugs that are laced with that substance, it’s time to crack down on fentanyl dealers. To that end, Sen. Tom Cotton has proposed the “Zero tolerance for Deceptive Fentanyl Trafficking Act.” The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Kelly Loeffler.

This law would create a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison for those convicted of dealing fentanyl while claiming it is something else. If the offender has a prior felony conviction or is in the U.S. illegally, he would get life in prison. And if the dealer intended to kill someone with fentanyl and succeeded, the bill would make that crime eligible for the death penalty, as any other first-degree murder is.

Daniel Horowitz has more about Sen. Cotton’s bill, including the story of an Ohio woman whose daughter died of fentanyl after two females sold it to her under the pretense that it was a prescription-type painkiller for her back injury. The Ohio woman says that while the daughter was incapacitated, the dealers used her ATM card to drain the victim’s bank accounts.

The Ohio woman told Horowitz that one of the two dealers served 28 months in jail for her crime. The other served no time at all. She was later involved in two other incidents of death from fentanyl, accompanied by theft.

Cotton’s bill would ensure properly harsh punishment for criminals like these two. It would not, however, punish people who possess or consume fentanyl. The sole target is those who are poisoning Americans with fentanyl.

I wonder whether President Trump will back this legislation. A year ago, speaking in New Hampshire, a state particularly hard hit by fentanyl, Trump said:

You know, it’s an amazing thing. Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people during their lifetime — thousands of people — and destroy many more lives than that. But they will kill thousands of people during their lifetime, and they’ll get caught and they’ll get 30 days in jail. Or they’ll go away for a year, or they’ll be fined. And yet, if you kill one person, you get the death penalty or you go to jail for life.

He added, “if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty.”

Accordingly, Trump should support Cotton’s bill. But it’s not clear whether Trump is serious about using tough sentencing to combat deadly drug dealing. After all, he backed the First Step Act which legislates leniency for federal felons who deal deadly drugs other than fentanyl.

The “Zero tolerance for Deceptive Fentanyl Trafficking Act” will test Trump’s seriousness on the matter of preventing deaths due to fentanyl.