Criminal JusticeFederalImmigration & BorderCornyn, Gonzales Introduce Bills to Expand Federal Efforts Against Dark Web Drug Trafficking

Border police have intercepted thousands of pounds of fentanyl since the beginning of the fiscal year.
April 5, 2022
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Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington, D.C. have introduced legislation to expand the federal government’s efforts against drug trafficking on the dark web, according to a press release last week by the office of Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23).

The news release indicated that Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) filed similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Overdose fatalities as a result of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is deadlier than many other street drugs, have increased in Texas the past year. Fentanyl is primarily smuggled from Mexico, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

In its most recent monthly report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported the seizure of more than 4,200 pounds of fentanyl from the beginning of this fiscal year through February. The agency reported over 11,200 pounds in confiscated fentanyl in Fiscal Year 2021.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office reported that the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas National Guard, and other agencies have seized 289 million lethal doses of fentanyl since the beginning of Operation Lone Star, the governor’s border security effort. A two-milligram dose of fentanyl is enough to cause a fatal overdose, per the DEA.

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“We’re seeing the devastating and deadly results of the opioid crisis in both cities and rural areas across the country, fueled in large part by the dark web,” Gonzales said.

“These illegal marketplaces are a hub and a safe haven for some of society’s most dangerous criminals, and as these bad actors get more advanced, we need to ensure our law enforcement has the proper tools to crack down on their efforts.”

The congressman added that the legislation would “help law enforcement apprehend and convict contraband dealers across the dark web.”

Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH-01), whose name is on the version of the bill circulated by Gonzales, commented that the proposal would “help get these deadly substances out of our communities.”

“Confronting the ongoing substance use disorder crisis requires us to act on multiple fronts, including online,” Pappas said in the news release. “Increasing penalties for those caught trafficking drugs online and making permanent the successful J-CODE task force are critical steps that will help continue to crack down on dark web traffickers and keep our communities safe.”

While drug trafficking is already a criminal offense, Gonzales and his colleagues are seeking to upgrade the criminal penalties for the specific act of trafficking drugs on the dark web. The bill would also require the U.S. government to examine the role of virtual currency in the online drug trade.

The legislation would make permanent the federal Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) task force. The U.S. Department of Justice announced in October of last year that the task force’s work with governments around the globe resulted in the arrests of 150 accused drug traffickers internationally and the seizure of tens of millions of dollars of drug money.

Gonzales’ office indicated that J-CODE “has led to hundreds of arrests worldwide, seizures of thousands of pounds of narcotics, and the closure of several dark web marketplaces.”

A copy of the dark web legislation can be found below.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.