Legislation significantly increases penalties on dealers and invests in proven public health solutions
DENVER, CO – The House Judiciary Committee today passed comprehensive legislation sponsored by Speaker Alec Garnett and Rep. Mike Lynch to combat the fentanyl crisis and save lives.
“Today, we took bold action to save lives,” said Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “This comprehensive bill will crack down on the dealers peddling death in our communities. The amendments we passed recognize the unique nature of fentanyl; setting the possession level at one gram does not make low-level personal use of fentanyl a felony, but it acknowledges the deadliness of this drug and gets fentanyl off our streets. This bill also invests in proven public health approaches that will expand access to treatment, make Narcan and test strips widely available, and create a robust education and awareness campaign to save lives.”
“We are seeing unprecedented numbers of overdose deaths in Colorado. The fentanyl crisis demands an aggressive response that will hold dealers accountable and remove this deadly drug from our streets, and that’s what this comprehensive fentanyl legislation will do,” said Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein. “This solution will save lives by giving prosecutors the tools we need to put dealers in prison and protect our communities. This legislation will allow us to respond aggressively to dealers who take Coloradans’ lives when distributing this drug, and I encourage lawmakers to pass this bill.”
“This legislation will give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on fentanyl dealers to get this dangerous drug off our streets,” said Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington. “Fentanyl doesn’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat; people are dying in every community in our state. This bill is a comprehensive solution that will save lives and prevent fentanyl deaths.”
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 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.
The committee passed an amendment that would make it a felony to knowingly possess more than one gram of fentanyl compound/mixture. Another amendment passed by committee addresses the danger of pure fentanyl. Once Colorado’s labs have the ability to test for the percentage of fentanyl within a compound, this amendment creates a zero tolerance policy for the possession of pure fentanyl. The purpose of the amendment is to turn on a no tolerance policy for possession of pure fentanyl when the testing is available.
This crisis also demands a robust public health approach that will address root causes 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.