Church of Scientology National Affairs Office Joins Letter Urging White House to End Over-Criminalization of Fentanyl-Related Substances..

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Church of Scientology National Affairs Office Joins Letter Urging White House to End Over-Criminalization of Fentanyl-Related Substances

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This letter is particularly interesting given the Church of Scientology's usual position on drugs.


Human Rights Watch: More than 140 Groups Urge White House to End Over-Criminalization of Fentanyl-Related
Substances

August 24, 2021 6:32PM EDT




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More than 140 Groups Urge White House to End Over-Criminalization of Fentanyl-Related Substances

August 24, 2021

President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Vice President Kamala Harris
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris:

The 142 undersigned organizations write to urge the Biden administration and Congress to let the Trump administration temporary “classwide” emergency scheduling of fentanyl-related substances expire on October 22, 2021. We also write to reiterate our request[1] to the administration that it engage more stakeholder feedback with the interagency working group that is studying this topic before it finalizes its recommendation to Congress on the classwide scheduling issue. Since the extension of the classwide policy in April 2021, our coalition has been granted just a half-hour “listening” session with some representatives from the interagency working group. That time did not allow a robust, two-way discussion on this complicated policy issue. The administration’s policymaking process on this issue has largely occurred behind closed doors, and we deserve a government that is both transparent and responsive.

The classwide scheduling policy must expire. Classwide scheduling would exacerbate pretrial detention, mass incarceration and racial disparities in the prison system, doubling down on a fear-based, enforcement-first response to a public health challenge. The policy could also lead to over-criminalization and prosecutorial misconduct. Under the classwide control, any offense involving a “fentanyl-related substance” is subject to federal criminal prosecution, even if the substance in question is helpful or has no potential for abuse. Failure to define with specificity through our laws what is or is not illegal will lead to miscarriages of justice. Take, for example, the case of Todd Coleman. Mr. Coleman was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 10 years for selling 30 grams of cocaine--about 2 tablespoons--because a local lab said they were laced with three illegal fentanyl analogues.[2] But none of the substances were illegal fentanyl analogues, and one was a substance called “Benzyl Fentanyl” that the Drug Enforcement Administration has long-known is not dangerous or illegal.

Coalition Letter to Biden Administration Opposing Classwide Scheduling of Fentanyl-Related Substances

What is more, the classwide scheduling policy will fail to curb overdose rates in the U.S. In the past few years, synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and its analogues have been responsible for overdose deaths in many parts of the country.[3] These overdose deaths form a part of a broader wave of mortality associated with unemployment, alcohol poisoning and suicide, circumstances related to working class economic decline and mental health challenges.[4] Focusing on drug interdiction does not address the root cause of these overdoses. Skyrocketing prosecutions and criminal penalties have done nothing to stem the tide of these deaths, or to reduce the supply of harmful substances in our country.[5] Relying on jails to force individuals into painful, involuntary, and often unsafe withdrawal is not the solution. In fact, the classwide scheduling policy will hurt public health and scientific research aimed at finding solutions to the overdose crisis.[6] Classwide scheduling allows for an overbroad classification of fentanyl analogues under Schedule 1, including those that may have medical or research value and could be critical to finding solutions to the overdose crisis.

Nor will classwide scheduling curtail the supply of fentanyl and its analogues. Despite repeated claims by law enforcement that the classwide ban has reduced the supply of fentanyl-related substances, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) could not evaluate this claim due to the short time the ban had been in place and various factors that could lead to a reduction of these substances. Because of those variables, the GAO did not draw causal conclusions related to classwide scheduling[7] but noted that “the number of reports of all fentanyl analogues and other related compounds (e.g., precursors), including individually scheduled analogues, have increased since the implementation of class-wide scheduling.”[8]

Now, more than ever, policymakers must turn to evidence and science, not fear, to find answers. The federal government must not repeat the decades-old mistakes it made around crack-powder sentencing disparities, but rather it should follow the science and a public health strategy to address the overdose crisis. Enforcement-first responses to drug policy, including classwide drug scheduling of fentanyl analogues, have only entrenched racial disparities in the criminal legal system and locked in tougher sentences, without reducing overdose deaths.[9] These responses deter scientific research and ignore the root causes of the overdose crisis, thwarting any meaningful public health solutions.[10] The most effective ways to address the overdose crisis are evidence-based public health and harm reduction approaches. Such approaches are supported by nearly two-thirds of Americans, who believe drug use should be addressed as a public health issue and not as a criminal justice issue.[11]

The Biden Administration must seize this opportunity to take a new course on drug policy. It must not reverse the progress it has made on harm reduction and instead maintain its commitment to ending mandatory minimums and pushing forward policy that promotes racial equity. We welcome further dialogue with you and your staff about how to move forward on this important topic. However, we must reiterate our firm opposition to “classwide” emergency scheduling, whether temporary or permanent. We request as well that we be allowed to review and provide feedback on the administration’s proposal before it is distributed to Congress.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please contact Maritza Perez of the Drug Policy Alliance, at [email protected], or Sakira Cook of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, at [email protected], for questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

A Little Piece Of Light

A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing)

AIDS United

Alliance for Living

American Civil Liberties Union

AMERSA, Inc.

Arizona Recovers

Arkansas Community Organizations

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition

Being Alive - LA

Black and Pink Massachusetts

Black Led Organizing Collaborative

Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of La

Bright Heart Health

California Society of Addiction Medicine

CARMAhealth

Casa de Salud

Cascade AIDS Project

Center for Disability Rights

Center for Embodied Spirituality

Center for Living and Learning

Center for Optimal Living

Center for Popular Democracy

Central Texas Harm Reduction

Centro Latino Americano

Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

College & Community Fellowship

Community Alliance on Prisons

Community Catalyst

Community Health Project LA

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces

CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants)

DanceSafe

De-escalate Ohio Now HeartbeatMovement Incorporated

Desiree Alliance

Dream Corps JUSTICE

Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii

Due Process Institute

Elevyst

Exponents Inc.

EYEJ: Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice

Fair and Just Prosecution

Faith in Public Life

Federal Public and Community Defenders

Florida Harm Reduction Collective

Friends of Guest House

Friends of Safehouse

GLIDE

GoodWorks: North AL Harm Reduction

GRASP/Broken No More

Harm Reduction Action Center

Harm Reduction Ohio

Harm Reduction Sisters

Harm Reduction Therapy Center

Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center

Healing Equity and Liberation (HEAL) Organization

Health Equity Alliance

HealthRIGHT 360

Hep Free Hawaii

Hepatitis C Mentor And Support Group-HCMSG

HIPS

Hoosier Action

Housing Works

Human Rights Watch

IBW-ACTION

Idaho Harm Reduction Project

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Justice Strategies

JustLeadershipUSA

LA Community Health Project

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

Law Enforcement Action Partnership

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Live4Lali

Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College

Maine People's Alliance

Martinez Harm Reduction Collective

Minneapolis Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Muid and Muid Associates

NASTAD

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

National Association of Social Workers

National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC)

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-Maryland

National Employment Law Project

National Harm Reduction Coalition

National Health Care for the Homeless Council

National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)

New Jersey Policy Perspective

NEXT Harm Reduction/NEXT Distro

Nurses for Responsible Healthcare

Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality

Ohio Transformation Fund

Ohio Women’s Alliance

Open Aid Alliance

Oregon Working Families Party

P.A.I.N.

Partnership for Safety and Justice

Peer Network Of New York

People's Action

R Street Institute

Rights & Democracy New Hampshire

Rights & Democracy Vermont

River Valley Organizing / UnHarming Ohio

Showing Up for Racial Justice Ohio

Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund

Southern Tier AIDS Program

Sponsors, Inc.

SSDP UC Berkeley

St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction

St. James Infirmary

StoptheDrugWar.org

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Substance Use Policy, Education, and Recovery PAC

Texas Criminal Justice Coalition

The Levenson Foundation

The Mountain Center

The People's Harm Reduction Alliance

The Perfectly Flawed Foundation

The Sentencing Project

The Seven Challenges

The Taifa Group

Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico

Transitions Clinic Network

Truth Pharm

Tulane University

Tzedek Association

Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio

Unity Fellowship of Christ Church NYC

Urban Survivors Union

Vera Institute of Justice

VICTA

Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition

Vivent Health

VOCAL-NY

VOCAL-WA

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Wilkes Recovery Revolution

WV Citizen Action

[1] On Friday, July 16, 2021, individuals from some of our organizations met with staff from the Department of Justice (DOJ), including staff from the Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and the Drug Enforcement Administration to discuss the classwide scheduling policy. On July 20, 2021, we first made the request to the DOJ, via email communication, to meet with the interagency working group and contribute to the administration's policy proposal before it goes to Congress. We followed up on this request, via email, on July 30, 2021. On August 5, 2021, our coalition was granted a half hour meeting with representatives from the interagency working group and the administration, including officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), DOJ, the White House Domestic Policy Counsel, and the White House Counsel’s Office.

[2] Beth Schwartzapfel, Biden could have taken the war on drugs down a notch. He didn’t, The Marshall Project, (June 16, 2021), Biden Could Have Taken the War on Drugs Down a Notch. He Didn’t..

[3] Nat’l Inst. of Drug Abuse, Overdose Death Rates (last updated Jan. 29, 2021), https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugtopics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates.

[4] Carol Graham, America’s crisis of despair: A federal task force for economic recovery and societal well-being, Brookings, (Feb. 10, 2021), https://www.brookings.edu/research/americas-crisis-of-despair-a-federal-task-force-foreconomic-recovery-and-societal-well-being/.

[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, 12 Month-ending Provisional Number of Drug Overdose Deaths by Drug or Drug Class January 2015 through July 2020, Synthetic opioids excluding methadone (T40.4), NCHS - 404 Error - Resource Not Available Drug Alcohol Depend, (Nov. 1 2020); 216: 108314, Steep increases in fentanyl-related mortality west of the Mississippi River: Recent evidence from county and state surveillance, Chelsea L. Shover, Titilola O. Falasinnu, Candice L. Dwyer, Nayelie Benitez Santos, Nicole J. Cunningham, Rohan B. Freedman, Noel A. Vest, and Keith Humphreys, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7521591; Emily Fang, We are shipping to the U.S.: inside China's online synthetic drug networks, National Public Radio, (Nov. 17, 2020), 'We Are Shipping To The U.S.': Inside China's Online Synthetic Drug Networks.

[6] See Letter from Senators Richard J. Durbin, Michael S. Lee, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Christopher A. Coons, Mazie K. Hirono, Cory A. Booker, Kamala, D. Harris to The Hon. Alex M. Azar II, Secretary, U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services (Jul. 10, 2019), https://www.durbin.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Letter to DOJ HHS 7.10.pdf.

[7] U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-21-301SU, Synthetic Opioids: Considerations for Class-wide Scheduling of Fentanyl-Related Substances at 31 n.10 (Apr. 2021).

[8] Id. at 52 n. 9.

[9] Madden, G. J., “Ammunition for Fighting a Demand-Side War on Drugs: A Review of Contingency Management in Substance Abuse Treatment,” J. Appl. Behav. Anal. 41(4): 645-651, 2008; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts,” (Jul. 14, 2021), Products - Vital Statistics Rapid Release - Provisional Drug Overdose Data. An in-depth analysis of fentanyl analogue sentencing from the United States Sentencing Commission in fiscal year 2019 found that 70 percent of those sentenced for fentanyl analogues were Black or Latinx. U.S. Sentencing Commission, Fentanyl and Fentanyl Analogues: Federal Trends and Trafficking Patterns,” (Jan. 2021), https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/research-publications/2021/20210125_Fentanyl-Report.pdf.

[10] See Letter from Senators Richard J. Durbin, Michael S. Lee, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Christopher A. Coons, Mazie K. Hirono, Cory A. Booker, Kamala, D. Harris to The Hon. Alex M. Azar II, Secretary, U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services (Jul. 10, 2019), 404 | U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, M., & Vakharia, S., Drug Policy Alliance, Criminal Justice Reform in the Fentanyl Era: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, 2020, https://drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/dpa-cj-reform-fentanyl-era-v.3_0.pdf.

[11] Franklin, D. “Overwhelming Majority Say War on Drugs Has Failed, Support New Approach,” (June 2, 2021), https://drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/bpi-aclu_wod_public_release_memo_060221_updated_002_002.pdf.

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