Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared on Fox News on May 14, 2024. 

Leaders in many cities have recently concluded that it was a bad idea to decriminalize hard drugs.

Unless you get your news from NPR, you already knew that allowing people to buy fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin without consequences would end in pain and chaos for both drug users and their communities. 

Woke cities and states throughout the country are now scrambling to reinstall policies to restore law and order by deterring drug use.

State lawmakers in Oregon, for example, recently passed a new law that put back in place criminal punishments for the possession of hard drugs. Lawmakers found this necessary a mere three years after voters passed Measure 110, a ballot initiative that limited criminal punishments for possessing hard drugs to only small fines – no jail time. 

At the time, activists sold voters a bill of goods claiming that Measure 110 would help those with addiction. Activists seized upon the anti-cop riots in 2020 to argue that decriminalizing drugs would also give cops fewer reasons to "harass" drug users. Major activists lined up to fund the effort.

This foolishness sounded too good to people who have common sense, and it was.

Overdose deaths in Oregon shot up 44% between 2022 and 2023 – the highest increase in the nation. Law enforcement officers reported that rampant drug use also contributed to a 16.6% surge in violent crimes such as homicide, rape, assault and robbery from 2019 to 2022. 

Activists claimed Measure 110 would help Black residents in particular. Instead, overdose rates among Black Oregonians doubled between 2020 and 2022. Today, one in 10 deaths among Black Oregonians results from a drug overdose. 

Measure 110 failed those it purported to help in a deadly way.

Oregon is not an outlier. San Francisco is walking back bone-deep, down-to-the-marrow stupid drug policies, too. 

For years, local leaders allowed the City by the Bay to descend into chaos by declining to arrest or prosecute individuals who used illegal drugs in public. Open-air drug use became commonplace. 

Many families left the city to avoid trudging through dirty needles and piles of human feces on their way to work. One deli owner found his "first dead body" while checking on the addicts who camped near his shop. 

Californians seem willing to put up with a lot before reconsidering dumb dogma, but even San Francisco has its limits. Mayor London Breed recently announced that "change is coming," including more funding for law enforcement to arrest those using drugs in public. 

These drug policy reversals are becoming the rule, not the exception. Other cities and states throughout the country – including Washington, D.C., Washington state and Boston – have taken steps to enforce drug laws after years of lax policies brought their residents nothing but misery. 

Addiction is horrible. But policymakers cannot allow their empathy for Americans with addiction to blind them to the dangerous reality of drugs like fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.

Drug overdoses killed an estimated 112,000 Americans in 2023 – more than twice as many deaths as car crashes. Yet no sane lawmaker would legalize reckless driving. Heartbreaking stories in Oregon and San Francisco prove that deterrence must be part of the policymaking equation. 

As cities and states work to replace failed, dumb crime policies with laws that deter drug use and promote safe communities, Congress must step up, too. That’s why I introduced the Fairness in Fentanyl Sentencing Act. 

Fentanyl is a particularly deadly narcotic that Louisiana law enforcement has tied to 65% of our overdose deaths. My bill would hold drug dealers accountable by decreasing the amount of fentanyl a dealer has to possess before he faces a mandatory minimum sentence.

Today, drug traffickers can carry enough fentanyl to kill every person in Shreveport, Louisiana, and still not face even a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. Dealers caught with smaller amounts of less lethal drugs – such as methamphetamine or crack cocaine – face much longer sentences than those caught pushing fentanyl. 

Lowering fentanyl possession limits would make sure fentanyl traffickers face punishments that reflect the deadliness of the poison they are peddling. 

I don’t understand why some people seem wedded to the dumb-on-crime sentiments that San Francisco and Oregon have abandoned. The Fairness in Fentanyl Sentencing Act wouldn’t affect people suffering from addiction. It would only punish dealers for the hell they’re unleashing on too many innocent families. Still, a few of my colleagues have blocked every effort I’ve made to get this bill signed into law. 

Overdose deaths don’t make cities more livable. Open-air drug use doesn’t make communities safer or cleaner. Fair, clear penalties help stop people from hurting themselves and their neighbors. 

I hope more woke cities and states admit this and correct their dangerous policies before more Americans fall victim to drugs and stupidity.