On Thursday, Feb. 6, President Donald Trump signed a temporary reauthorization of the Fentanyl Analogues Act into law, extending its validity through May 6, 2021.
“On Thursday, February 6, 2020, the President signed into law: S. 3201, the ‘Temporary Reauthorization and Study of the Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act,'” The White House announced in a statement on the Bill, “which extends for 15 months, through May 6, 2021, the temporary scheduling order classifying certain fentanyl-related substances as a Schedule I drug subject to the strictest controls.”
The extension, which came just in time before the deadline of Feb. 6 would expire, is an essential tool in the hands of Justice Department prosecutors to build a case against traffickers as it relieves them of the obligation to prove that any new mutant version of fentanyl, a so-called fentanyl-analogue, is in fact already blacklisted and thus prosecutable.
The Justice Department also announced the signing of the Bill on its Twitter account.
Today, President Trump signed into law the “Temporary Reauthorization and Study of the Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act,” classifying certain fentanyl-substances as a Schedule I drug subject to the strictest controls. pic.twitter.com/Y4I8xUYG4c
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) February 7, 2020
Without the extension, it would no longer be possible for the Justice Department to prosecute fentanyl-related cases as a Schedule I drug, and prosecutors would have to resort to proving in each case that the latest slightly altered opioid is registered as forbidden.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on January 30, thus temporarily extending the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) class-wide ban on all variants of the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl, which has helped fuel the opioid crisis in the United States.
The Bill was identical to a version approved in the Republican-led U.S. Senate on January 16 and fell short of what the Justice Department had hoped to win from Congress.
The department had lobbied to make permanent the class-wide ban first initiated by the DEA in February 2018, meaning all fentanyl analogues would always be listed in the same legal category as heroin and cocaine.
But opposition by criminal justice reform groups and researchers led the Senate to put off a permanent solution by passing legislation that would temporarily extend the DEA’s class-wide ban on fentanyl analogues for another 15 months to buy the Government Accountability Office time to study how the policy will affect scientific research.
The idea was to get ahead of chemists, many of whom the U.S. government has said are based in China, who have sought to evade federal regulations by tweaking the chemical structure of each drug.
The measure passed in the Democratic-controlled House by a vote of 320-88.
Reuters contributed to this report