Lawmakers in both lower and upper chambers of Congress have introduced at least three separate bills—with the acronyms HUNTER, CRACK, and PIPES—seeking to block any attempts by the federal government to use taxpayer money to fund crack pipes.
It comes after a media report by the Washington Free Beacon, citing a spokesman from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said the Biden administration was funding safe smoking kits that would provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and “any illicit substance,” as part of a $30 million grant program to reduce harm from illicit drugs. Following the report, the administration faced widespread backlash across social media.
The HHS and the White House on Feb. 9 denied such claims and said that the smoking kits it is funding does not include any pipes. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the crack pipe story “inaccurate reporting.”
However, a number of lawmakers remain unconvinced, and New York-based non-profit Drug Policy Alliance suggested that pipes were originally part of the smoking kits and the government had backtracked on including them.
Brent Scher, executive editor at the Washington Free Beacon, said on social media that when the outlet sought clarification from HHS about whether the safe smoking kit included pipes to smoke crack and meth, the HHS spokesman responded, in exact words, “I wouldn’t limit to those two substances. It would reference ‘any illicit substance.'”
Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) on Friday introduced the Halting the Use of Narcotics Through Effective Recovery (HUNTER) Act of 2022 (pdf) to ban federal dollars from funding crack pipes, needles, and other drug instruments.
Bishop told Fox News that the Biden administration was “caught red-handed” and that he and Boebert are not convinced by the White House’s denial. Boebert told the outlet, “We want [the HUNTER Act] in statute. We’re not taking their word for it.”
Separately, she said in a social media post on Feb. 10, “I never in my life thought I would have to say this, but the proper role of government is not to fund the distribution of crack pipes. Did Hunter come up with this [expletive]?”
The acronym of the bill appears to be a reference to Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, who has struggled with drug addiction, including to crack cocaine.
The proposed bill came after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and 15 other Republican senators on Thursday introduced the Cutting off Rampant Access to Crack Kits (CRACK) Act (pdf).
It would amend Section 2706 of the Democrat-approved American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (pdf)—a $1.9 trillion COVID relief spending plan Biden signed into law in March 2021—by adding a clause that prohibit funds under the act to be used to “procure, supply, or distribute pipes, cylindrical objects, or other paraphernalia that can be used to smoke, inhale, or ingest narcotics.”
“I am glad the Biden Administration acknowledges sending crack pipes to our nation’s addicts is a bad idea,” Rubio said in a statement. “It is pure insanity to think the federal government would fund crack pipe distribution. This legislation will make certain the program can never pay for crack pipes, and given the Biden Administration’s position I look forward to their vigorous support.”
Separately, Rubio and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) introduced a bipartisan bill on Friday, called the Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems (PIPES) Act (pdf).
“Every American and West Virginian has been impacted by the drug epidemic that has killed over 101,000 Americans from April 2020 to April 2021,” Manchin said in a statement.
“While this is a heartbreaking issue that must be fully addressed by the federal government, using taxpayer funds to buy paraphernalia for those struggling with substance use disorder is not the solution.
“Our bipartisan PIPES Act will ensure that American Rescue Plan funds can’t be used to buy illicit drug paraphernalia, and I look forward to passing legislation to address this issue quickly.”