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 β€” possibly as early as Monday β€” 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.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more