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SITSA Federal Drug Policy – Primarily in response to a proliferation of synthetic analogs for fentanyl, policymakers have submitted a new federal bill that would re-think scheduling and allow new synthetic substances to be scheduled faster, without the long process currently required to schedule illicit substances. While this is definitely an issue–it is common for illicit drug makers to change a molecule in an illegal substance to slip through and can make the substance more dangerous or more addictive, and legislators can’t keep up. That said, the bill proposes to create a new schedule that the Attorney General could add new substances to, without the extensive testing currently necessary, for 5 years. With an anti-drug policy that usually goes against research, public opinion, and further than even most conservative politicians agree is necessary, people are rightly concerned with what Jeff Sessions might do with that kind of power.

Currently, there are 5 “schedules” which are used to rank a drug’s illegality and medical potential. Schedule 1 is reserved for highly illegal substances like heroin in cannabis, while Schedule 5 is for things like codeine-based cough syrup. The new bill, Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017 (SITSA). would create an alternative, Schedule A. This new Schedule would be for substances that are chemically similar to already scheduled drugs, and as mentioned, those new compounds could be placed on Schedule A for up to 5 years, with the goal of allowing time for testing to determine how dangerous those substances potentially are. The Cannabist quoted Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance as saying that the bill “gives the Attorney General a ton of power in terms of scheduling drugs and pursuing penalties,” going on to add that “This is a giant step backwards and really it’s doing the bidding of Jeff Sessions as he tries to escalate the war on drugs.”

Currently, the Attorney General can only temporarily schedule new compounds for up to 2 years. Though a fact sheet put out by the bill’s sponsors asserts that it strikes a balance by assigning a Schedule III value to compounds designated as Schedule A and creates provisions for legitimate research on substances that may well be of medical use, many are concerned about the potentials for overreach if Jeff Sessions is allowed to use this as a tool in his personal war against drugs.

The bill was introduced to the House in early June and is still being heard; you can follow it’s progress and read the full test here.