January 19, 2018

January 19, 2018

Contact: Office of Legislative and Public Affairs

(202) 502-4500 | pubaffairs@ussc.gov




U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION ANNOUNCES PACKAGE OF
PROPOSED SYNTHETIC DRUGS AMENDMENTS

New Classes of Synthetic Drugs and Increases to Fentanyl Penalties Among Proposals

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a public meeting this morning, the United States Sentencing Commission approved publication of several proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines, including proposals addressing the treatment of synthetic drugs under the guidelines. (Read proposals.)

Today’s proposed amendments stem from a multiyear Commission study of some of the more prevalent and dangerous synthetic drugs in the federal system. The proposals adopt a class-based approach for synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids, two types of synthetic drugs studied by the Commission. The proposal also defines the term “synthetic cannabinoid” and establishes a single marihuana equivalency for each class.

The Commission also proposed an increase to penalties for fentanyl offenses by setting the offense level for fentanyl equal to the higher offense level currently assigned to fentanyl analogues. The proposal provides more exact guideline definitions for the terms “fentanyl” and “fentanyl analogue”. An enhancement for misrepresenting or marketing fentanyl or fentanyl analogues as another substance was also proposed.

Circuit Judge William H. Pryor, Jr., the acting chair of the Commission remarked, "A growing number of synthetic drugs are being developed and trafficked on the illicit drug market. It is important that the sentencing guidelines account for our most current understanding of the chemical structure, potency and effect, trafficking trends, and community impact of these drugs. These proposals aim to provide greater clarity, guidance, and efficiency in synthetic drug cases." 

During the synthetic drugs study undertaken from August 2016 through December 2017, three fact-gathering public hearings were conducted on each drug type. The Commission received testimony from dozens of experts, including federal judges, scientists, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical personnel. Public comment was also accepted during three open comment periods. (Read comment or watch hearings.)

Several other technical or clarifying amendments were proposed today, including an amendment addressing two application issues relating to the immigration guidelines.

Today's proposals join other proposed amendments published in August 2017 that were held over from the previous amendment cycle. (Read “holdover” proposals.) The Commission is expected to vote on the full slate of proposed amendments during the current amendment year ending May 1, 2018.

A public comment period on the newly proposed amendments will close on March 6, 2018, with a reply comment period closing March 28, 2018. To inform public comment, the Commission will soon release an online data briefing on synthetic drugs that highlights some of the findings from the Commission’s study. Two public hearings will also be scheduled in February and March. Look for more information on the data briefing and public hearings in the coming weeks on the Commission's website.

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The United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop a national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines provide structure for the courts’ sentencing discretion to help ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.