Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has offered amendments to S.2943, the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), that would make federal mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl offenses harsher. Fentanyl is a highly addictive and powerful synthetic narcotic used in hospitals to treat severe pain. It is also used to cut heroin or substituted as heroin, which is leading to drug overdoses in New England.
The heroin epidemic was highlighted in ahead of Republican and Democratic presidential debates and primaries in New Hampshire. When talking about this issue, Carly Fiorina, for example, somberly discussed the tragic death of her daughter, who battled alcohol and drug addiction. “Drug addiction shouldn’t be criminalized,” Fiorina said. “We need to treat it appropriately.”
Fiorina is, of course, right. We should be treating drug addiction, as states including Texas and Georgia have done, through drug courts and diversion programs. These programs are cheaper and more cost-effective than lengthy mandatory minimum sentences.
Unfortunately, the Ayotte amendments, S.Amdt.4082 and S.Amdt.4083, would make simple possession of 0.5 grams of illicit drugs laced with fentanyl subject to 5-year mandatory minimum sentences in federal prison. Larger amounts would trigger longer sentences, which are harsher than carrying more substantial quantities of meth, crack cocaine, or pure heroin.
The Ayotte amendments, which could be considered as soon as next week, are concerning because it would result in the incarceration of drug addicts in federal prison, leading to a higher prison population and associated costs to taxpayers. The amendments also do not take into…