Legislation Would Criminalize New Drugs like Spice/K2 and "Bath Salts," Impede Scientific Research, and Subject More Americans to Mandatory Minimum Sentences
WASHINGTON, DC—Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is blocking legislation from proceeding in the Senate that would escalate the failed war on drugs, distract law enforcement from dealing with violent crimes, and subject more nonviolent Americans to long prison sentences at taxpayer expense. The legislation, which would criminalize dozens of synthetic drugs, has been criticized by scientists for impeding scientific research and blasted by criminal justice reform groups for perpetuating over-incarceration and racial disparities in drug law enforcement.
Despite rising deficits and overwhelming evidence that the war on drugs has failed, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are working to bring this legislation to the Senate floor.
“Senator Rand Paul is standing up to both political parties and doing what it takes to protect Kentucky taxpayers from the career politicians in Washington who want to waste more money on failed drug policies,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “He should be applauded for opposing government waste and supporting public safety. The failed war on drugs costs too much and achieves too little; it is time for a new approach.”
When the legislation criminalizing synthetic drugs made its way through the U.S. House of Representatives late last year, numerous members of both parties raised strong objections. The legislation passed but nearly 100 members of Congress voted against it, including 16 Republicans.
Opponents cited many reasons:
- the legislation circumvents the established process for scheduling controlled substances that requires scientific review;
- it hampers research into possible break-through medicines;
- it is duplicative of state laws and interferes with state discretion;
- it wastes federal law enforcement resources and taxpayer money on low-level offenders that can be better dealt with at the local or state level;
- and instead of focusing on prevention, education and treatment the legislation subjects more young people to a criminal record and lengthy sentences served in federal prison facilities.
This week, the Drug Policy Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and several other organizations sent a letter to members of the Senate urging them to oppose this legislation. The letters urge Congress to not just reject the synthetic drug legislation but also overhaul U.S. drug policy. They point out that last year marked the 40th Anniversary of President Nixon declaring a war on drugs, and despite the government arresting tens of millions of nonviolent Americans and spending more than a trillion dollars, drugs are cheap, potent, and readily available in every community.
Outlawing synthetic drugs would only further waste taxpayer money and distract law enforcement from real crime, they say, while empowering organized crime who would take over the market and profit from it. They argue that a better approach might be to tax and regulate the drugs to keep them away from young people and focus on treatment instead of incarceration.
“Outright criminalization would only drive the demand for these drugs to the criminal market, which provides no age restrictions or other regulatory controls,” said Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Product labeling requirements, as well as marketing, branding and retail display restrictions, are proven to reduce youth access to tobacco products and impulse tobacco purchases among adults. This approach is working for tobacco, and could work for synthetic drugs.”