As the political pressure to address the fentanyl crisis built up over the last few months, Democrats in the General Assembly have finally been persuaded to take action.
This week, state legislators introduced a bill to address our fentanyl crisis. Or a bill that at least appears to be addressing our fentanyl crisis.
Currently, Colorado leads the nation in the largest increase of deaths due to this deadly drug, second only to Alaska. This is, in large part, due to legislation the General Assembly passed, and Governor Jared Polis signed, in 2019.
On Thursday, in a joint press conference with Governor Polis, legislators unveiled HB22-1376, the Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention Act. I watched in awe as Democrats proclaimed their pseudo-solution “comprehensive.” Most disturbing, I watched Rep. Leslie Herod shamelessly use the untouchable grief of those whose family members died from fentanyl overdoses as a political stunt, and speak extensively on this newly-proposed legislation without a hint of personal responsibility or remorse for the role she played in escalating the state’s fentanyl crisis.
Rep. Herod was a prime sponsor of the legislation that basically handed drug dealers a “get-out-of-jail-free card” – only in this case, it was a “get-out-of-jail-on-bail card.” HB19-1263, the Offense Level for Controlled Substance Possession Actreduced the criminal charges of possesing less than four grams of heroin, cocaine, meth, or fentanyl from a drug felony to a drug misdemeanor. Since the law went into effect, drug dealers, when they’ve been caught, have basically received the equivalent of a parking ticket before being re-released onto the streets.
Although the bill had two Republican sponsors, out of the forty Republicans serving in the General Assembly at the time, only ten of them voted for this legislation (a number which apparently Speaker Alec Garnett considers “hugely bipartisan.”)
While it’s heartening to see any legislation addressing fentanyl introduced into the General Assembly, don’t be fooled. This legislation is basically an elaborate publicity stunt.
As written, the bill creates a felony 1 drug charge for distributing fentanyl that results in death or for any person possessing equipment to produce fentanyl. However, it doesn’t change the current possession law, keeping it a mere drug misdemeanor to possess up to four grams of fentanyl.
The bill also appropriates almost $29 million for drug treatment programs and education.
Furthermore, the bill provides immunity for a drug dealer who calls 911 if someone is overdosing on the fentanyl that they provided.
While imprisoning those facing addiction is not the answer and funds ought to be appropriated to address the opioid epidemic, this legislation confuses addicts and criminals. Yes, the fentanyl crisis is rooted in addiction, but this legislation focuses on allocating resources to those experiencing opioid addiction rather than increasing the penalties for the ruthless criminals that are distributing this poison. Both issues need to be addressed and they should be – in two distinct pieces of legislation.
Democrats are merely throwing money at a problem that requires action.
Fentanyl is simply not comparable to the other drugs that were addressed in the 2019 legislation. Only 2mg of fentanyl can be a lethal dose, while a lethal dose of heroin is 200mg, 100x the dosage of fentanyl. The proposed legislation would keep penalties for possessing up to four grams of fentanyl a misdemeanor – it would remain a misdemeanor to possess enough of the drug to kill 2,000 people.
This drug is a weapon of mass destruction. It is a form of domestic terrorism. Those creating and distributing this drug are callous criminals – they do not care how many people die from overdoses if they are lining their own pockets. Just this week, a bag of fentanyl pills were found on a playground in Glenwood Springs. Those distributing this drug do not care who dies from their carelessness.
In the excitement and buzz over this legislation, do not forget that Democrats in Colorado can pass legislation every step of the way from introduction to law without a single Republican vote. And just last week, they did. They passed HB22-1279, the most radical abortion bill that passed any state legislature, which is about to be signed into law by Governor Polis.
They could pass sweeping changes that save the lives of Coloradans without a single Republican vote. Yet, on this issue of which there is significant bipartisan support to get something done, they proposed a placebo – a bill which barely changes the law but saves them in the court of public opinion in this critical Election Year.
Democrats are keeping this bill toothless under the guise of addressing addiction. But as long as we continue to ignore the root of this issue – possession and distribution – Coloradans will be forced to watch helplessly as their loved ones die due to the majority party’s indifference.