Controversy Over Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Fentanyl

Sen. Cory Booker, the ACLU and others oppose a proposal to increase mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl.

By Erin Delmore

“This has been punishment without proportionality. Retribution without reason,” said Sen. Cory Booker.

Booker sounded off against a proposal to increase mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl — a synthetic opioid up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

“Locking more people up for longer and longer sentences for low-level drug crimes at the expense of billions and billions of taxpayer dollars does not curb drug use and abuse,” he said.

His colleague in the Senate, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would lower the minimum amount of the drug required to trigger mandatory minimum sentencing. She introduced similar legislation earlier this year.

“We need to send the message — as we think about the intervention with law enforcement — so that you better not, better not as a drug dealer, mix fentanyl with anything or you are going to be held accountable,” Ayotte said.

The opioid addiction crisis has reached epidemic proportions in her state, much like New Jersey where the overdose rate is three times the national average. Ayotte’s spokesperson told us the intent is to hit traffickers and high-level dealers by accounting for the drug’s potency and shrinking the amount of it needed to trigger mandatory sentences for manufacturing, distribution or possession with the intent to distribute.

That means the current threshold for a mandatory five-year sentence — 40 grams — would drop down to two grams.

“You’re going to be locking up more people suffering from substance abuse disorder. Not the predators you need to be. The people walking around and carrying two grams are the people suffering from the disease,” said John Brogan, chief recovery specialist for treatment management at CARES in Morris County.

Fentanyl is colorless, odorless and nearly always fatal. It’s a synthetic drug used by terminally ill patients. The illicit stuff is cut with heroin.

“Most of the people suffering from a substance abuse disorder that go and purchase a bag of heroine and think it’s just heroin they have no idea that its fentanyl abeauto  fentanyl or any of the thousands different forms of cutting agents that there are, ” Brogan said.

There is mandatory minimum sentencing for heroin and fentanyl. Those laws were de rigueur in the 1980s and 90s — a frontline in the “war on drugs”.

“Mandatory minimum laws for heroine for other opiods have existed for close to 30 years yet they have done nothing to stop this type of epidemic,” said ACLU of New Jersey Executive Director Udi Ofer.

“What we saw is that many individuals that were addicts who needed help ended up getting warehoused in prisons,” said Integrity House President and CEO Robert Budsock.

“It’s not get some big drug king pen it can get someone for possession that might be one of the kids going to our high schools that’s got unfortunately too easy of access to prescription drugs and pain killers that led them to heroin and now caught with a limited amount that they were trying to do to feed their addiction and we just throw them in jail for now a much longer sentence,” Booker said.

Sen. Booker is backing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act — a bipartisan bill that reduces some mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders. He’s pushing for a full Senate vote.

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