Bipartisan legislation significantly increases penalties on dealers and invests in proven public health solutions to save lives
DENVER, CO – Governor Polis today signed comprehensive, bipartisan legislation sponsored by House Speaker Alec Garnett and Senators Brittany Pettersen and John Cooke to combat the fentanyl crisis and save lives.
“This law is a bold response deploying both public safety and public health approaches to combat Colorado’s fentanyl crisis and save countless lives from this deadly drug,” said Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “This comprehensive plan cracks down on dealers peddling this poison in our communities and invests in proven public health strategies to prevent overdoses and deaths. For months, we worked with law enforcement, public health experts, Democrats and Republicans to craft this law, and it’s a major step forward toward saving lives.”
“We are in the third wave of the opioid epidemic and in the worst overdose crisis in the history of this country. Fentanyl is the drug of choice for the cartels because it’s potent, cheap and easy to traffic,” said Senator Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. “We need to go after the dealers who are poisoning our communities and provide training and resources to better equip law enforcement to investigate fentanyl poisonings while increasing access to desperately needed treatment and life-saving harm reduction tools. This law is about saving lives with a comprehensive public health and public safety approach, and will complement the work we’re doing to fix our broken behavioral health system throughout Colorado.”
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 individuals who are distributing fentanyl and bringing it into our state. In line with other models for substance use convictions, the bill will also integrate mandatory substance use disorder (SUD) assessments and treatment into the state’s sentencing to help ensure people get the treatment they need.
The bill focuses on compound fentanyl – fentanyl mixed with other drugs or substances – which is by far the most prominent form of fentanyl found in Colorado. It will provide law enforcement with additional tools to go after dealers while providing treatment options to individuals with substance use disorders. 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 also 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 Behavioral Health Administration in CDPHE. Individuals assessed as having a substance use disorder will have to complete mandatory treatment.
HB22-1326 makes it a felony to possess more than one gram of fentanyl compound/mixture while creating legal guardrails for individuals who genuinely did not know they were in possession of this deadly drug. 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 rather than a felony. The new felony, which is not prison eligible, also includes what is known as a “wobbler” provision that allows individuals who successfully complete treatment to have the felony moved down to a misdemeanor on their record. 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. Finally, the legislation creates a grant fund for law enforcement agencies to pursue investigations of fentanyl poisonings.
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 extremely potent drug.
The legislation directs $29 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to implement recommendations from the Transformational Behavioral Health Task Force on effective harm reduction strategies and increased access to substance use disorder treatment in the criminal justice system. This money will be used to buy and distribute fentanyl testing strips and Naloxone, a life-saving opiate antagonist that helps prevent overdose deaths; boost funding to harm reduction community programs across the state; and expand medication assisted treatment in jails to get people the help they need to get back on track. The bill will also provide additional funding to crisis stabilization and detoxification centers.
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, so the State of Colorado can reach as many people as possible to raise awareness of this critical issue.