May 9, 2022 - News

Fentanyl legislation faces new questions as deadline looms

Reproduced from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Chart: Axios Visuals

A "must-pass" measure to temporarily stiffen penalties for possession of small amounts of fentanyl remains in limbo ahead of the legislative session's adjournment Wednesday.

Why it matters: The legislation is a top priority for Democratic leaders who are facing election-year pressure to address rising crime rates and fentanyl overdose deaths, which are climbing at a faster rate in Colorado than most other states.

How it works: Right now, possession of less than 4 grams of fentanyl is a misdemeanor under a bipartisan law approved in 2019.

  • The bill would make possession of 1 to 4 grams a felony for three years, starting in July. (A gram is about the weight of a standard paper clip.)
  • A person who reports an emergency overdose would receive immunity from prosecution.
  • The felony conviction could lead to jail time but not state prison, and could be erased after completion of the sentence.

What to watch: The Senate approved the legislation Friday after nine hours of debate, but made a significant change to remove language that would have required prosecutors to prove that a person knew the drug in their possession included fentanyl.

  • The House must reconsider the amended bill — possibly as early as Monday — and Democratic lawmakers are hoping to remove the Republican-backed change.
  • Such a move would take time and the clock is running short.

The big picture: The dispute reflects the deeply divided opinions on the issue.

  • Republicans sought to make possession of any amount of fentanyl a felony, a position held by the governor.
  • But Democrats rejected the attempt, saying they don't want to criminalize addiction. They point to testimony from experts who suggest arrests and prison time won't solve the fentanyl crisis.
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