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Harsh fentanyl laws may hurt poor communities

Minnesota residents may or may not be aware that analogs of fentanyl were classified as Schedule 1 drugs in an emergency order that was issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration. That emergency order, which made it easier for the DEA to seize fentanyl analogs and investigate people trafficking in these drugs, is scheduled to expire on Feb. 6.

While many people are pushing to make the DEA's emergency order permanent, others are saying that harsh penalties for fentanyl analogs disproportionately harm minority and low-income communities. Because drug laws do not distinguish sellers from users, drug users who sell small quantities to their friends could be charged for trafficking a Schedule 1 substance. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission data from 2016, only 16 percent of people who were charged for trafficking illegal fentanyl knew that what they had was fentanyl.

The Drug Policy Alliance has written a report about the impact of drug laws on communities, and they warn that tough drug laws do not necessarily prevent overdose deaths. The DPA says that when law enforcement officers lock up drug dealers, the instability in the drug market can lead to stronger and riskier drugs being introduced to buyers. Some argue that the call to increase penalties for fentanyl is classist, as it will lead to unfair sentencing for low-income drug users.

Illegal fentanyl or fentanyl analogs are sometimes mixed in with other drugs and sold without the buyer's knowledge. If a person is facing charges with enhanced penalties for a fentanyl-like substance, a criminal defense lawyer might be able to help the defendant to argue for a reduced sentence. A lawyer may show evidence to the court that helps to prove that the defendant did not knowingly purchase or sell a fentanyl analog.

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