Legislation significantly increases penalties on dealers and invests in proven public health solutions to save lives
DENVER, CO – The House today passed the conference report on HB22-1326, comprehensive legislation sponsored by Speaker Alec Garnett to combat the fentanyl crisis and save lives. The vote was 35-30.
“This legislation is a giant step forward in our fight to combat the fentanyl crisis, crack down on the dealers peddling death in our communities, and accelerate our state’s public health response to get this deadly drug off our streets and save lives,” said Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Working together over several months with public health experts, district attorneys, and members of both parties, we crafted a comprehensive approach that pairs severe penalties on fentanyl dealers with proven public health strategies to prevent overdose poisonings and deaths. We worked hard to find a compromise between the Senate and House versions, and we’ve agreed on language that ensures district attorneys’ ability to prosecute while creating reasonable guardrails for those who had no idea they were in possession of fentanyl.”
HB22-1326 is a comprehensive approach that includes both proven public health solutions and enhanced criminal penalties targeting dealers to save lives and get fentanyl off Colorado streets. The bill will strengthen criminal penalties on any individual distributing fentanyl. In line with other models for substance use convictions, the bill will also integrate mandatory SUD assessments and treatment into the state’s sentencing to ensure people get the treatment they need.
The bill focuses on compound fentanyl, which is fentanyl mixed with other drugs or substances and which is by far the prominent form of fentanyl found in CO. It will provide law enforcement with additional tools to go after dealers while providing treatment options to individuals with an SUD. Individuals who are dealing fentanyl will face increased felony charges, and if the defendant has distributed any amount of fentanyl and it leads to someone’s death, they can be charged with a level one drug felony and face the drug code’s strongest penalties.
The bill gives law enforcement tools to require treatment for individuals with a substance use disorder. Defendants in possession of any amount of fentanyl compound will be assessed for a substance use disorder and required to complete an education program developed by the Office of Behavioral Health in CDPHE. Individuals assessed as having a substance use disorder will have to complete mandatory treatment.
HB22-1326 would make it a felony to possess more than one gram of fentanyl compound/mixture while creating legal guardrails for individuals who genuinely didn’t know they were in possession of fentanyl. The new language says that if a defendant can successfully argue that they made “a reasonable mistake of fact,” then they will be sentenced with the lesser charge – a level one drug misdemeanor. Additionally, once Colorado’s labs have the ability to test for the percentage of fentanyl within a compound, this bill turns on a no tolerance policy for the possession of pure fentanyl. The new felony, which is not prison eligible, includes what is known as a “wobbler” provision that allows individuals who complete treatment to have the felony moved down to a misdemeanor on their record. The legislation creates a grant fund for law enforcement agencies to pursue investigations of fentanyl poisonings, provides additional funding to crisis stabilization centers and detoxification centers, and expands Medication-Assisted Treatment in jails.
This crisis also demands a robust public health approach that will address the root causes of fentanyl use and keep people alive. Colorado will save lives by investing in effective public health and substance use prevention and treatment strategies and giving people the tools they need to protect themselves from this more deadly drug. The legislation directs $29 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to implement recommendations from the Behavioral Health Task Force on effective harm reduction strategies and increased access to substance use disorder treatment in the criminal justice system.
While public awareness of fentanyl has risen, education campaigns that promote effective overdose prevention tools will save lives. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will develop, implement and maintain an ongoing statewide prevention and education campaign to address fentanyl education needs in the state, including the message that no amount of fentanyl is safe. The bill will also provide grants to develop and implement community-focused education campaigns on the dangers of fentanyl. The proposal also makes opiate antagonists more widespread, which will help save lives by preventing overdoses.