DENVER (KDVR) — Stakeholders and community members have been asking lawmakers to beef up fentanyl laws for months.
The calls grew louder after the deaths of five people in Commerce City due to the likely overdose of the drug they may not have known they were taking.
Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers revealed a new proposal they hope will address the overdoses that are happening more and more.
The bill lawmakers are proposing seeks to hold drug dealers accountable for selling the lethal drug to users. However, it still does not make a felony of possession of small amounts of fentanyl (4 grams or less), and that is not sitting well with police.
“What I can say is that I’m very disappointed,” Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said. “Disappointed that possession hasn’t been addressed and when we are talking about fentanyl, we’re talking about something completely different here. This is unlike any other drug that we have ever had to work through in our community.”
The new proposal would make it a felony if someone is caught distributing any amount of fentanyl in the state.
“This bill gives law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to put dangerous fentanyl dealers behind bars: low-level dealers, mid-level dealers and high-level dealers,” House Speaker Alec Garnett said on Thursday. He’s sponsoring the measure along with Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Mike Lynch, a Republican who represents Larimer and Weld counties, along with Sens. Brittany Pettersen, D-Jefferson, and John Cooke, R-Weld.
The proposal also calls to make testing kits more widely available, increase treatment for users struggling with addiction and use American Rescue Plan funding for more of the overdose reversal drug Narcan. The measure got support from several district attorneys because of the ability it would give prosecutors to put people behind bars for having the potent drugs mixed into other substances.
“No drug is safe right now. No drug is safe. We are finding fentanyl in cocaine, we are finding it in heroin, we’re finding it in meth, we’re finding it in OxyContin,” 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason said.
Police said they appreciate the effort but they are concerned that as it stands, having 4 grams or less of fentanyl in Colorado would still be a misdemeanor but not a felony.
“There is absolutely no safe amount of fentanyl on our streets and the DEA is right: One pill can kill, and in our state and our communities, one pill has killed,” Pazen said. “Thinking about the deadliness that is associated with fentanyl and the fact that there is no safe amount of fentanyl, it really limits our ability to keep the community safe with the way the law was initiated and the way it appears in its present form.”
The County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police released a joint statement, saying in part: “This drug is so deadly that possession of any amount should have a felony consequence. Since no amount of fentanyl is safe, this coalition will seek amendments to elevate ‘simple possession’ to a felony. Colorado cannot afford to take small, incremental steps to address the fentanyl crisis. Our response as a state needs to match the serious and deadly consequences brought on by this drug. Not taking these bold steps will only lead to more tragedy for Coloradans.”
Lawmakers said their goal is to get users help with addiction and punish the dealers putting it out there, but police want lawmakers to find a better balance with the measure.