The fentanyl crisis has generated banner headlines in media outlets throughout the United States. The growing concern is seeing an alarming rise in deaths due to overdoses of the widespread opioid. Efforts to stop the influx of the drug continue to fall short as more and more lives are lost.
Lawmakers in Colorado have taken steps to dissuade traffickers and dealers from continuing the influx of the synthetic drug by adding harsher criminal penalties.
In a controversial committee vote that approved HB22-1326, Colorado lawmakers added harsher punishment for fentanyl possession via an amendment that makes more than a gram of fentanyl a felony charge.
The pros and cons of stricter drug laws
Addiction experts, doctors and racial justice advocates opposed the decision, claiming that it would target the poor and people of color. They believe that the bill’s enactment would increase criminalization and fail to deal with the root causes of addiction and drug abuse. They cite Colorado’s challenges in providing adequate treatment with mixed results, with “tough-on-crime” policies doing little to stop the use or sales of narcotics.
District attorneys and law enforcement representatives believe that the bill does not go far enough. They lobbied for fentanyl to be charged at the felony level regardless of the amount.
Existing law establishes felony fentanyl possession at four grams. Passage of the amendment does not distinguish between the pure form of the opioid and drugs such as Xanax, cocaine, and other narcotics laced with it.
Additional changes include:
- Funding increases for fentanyl test strips and overdose reversal medications
- More severe penalties for dealers
- Mandating addiction treatment for some defendants
- Expanding treatment in jails through the use of medication
- Enacting a criminal charge for distribution leading to death
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee before two votes in the full chamber.