Colorado governor signs controversial fentanyl bill into law

Fentanyl graphic.
Fentanyl graphic.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 3:34 PM MDT|Updated: May. 26, 2022 at 5:16 AM MDT
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DENVER (KKTV) - Lawmakers in Colorado hope a new law will help save lives when it comes to fentanyl.

Gov. Jared Polis signed HB22-1326 into law on Wednesday.

“Making Colorado one of the ten safest states in the next five years is one of my top priorities and this new bipartisan law is part of what we need to do to make Colorado safer and help save lives,” said Gov. Polis. “The crime we are seeing in Denver and elsewhere is unacceptable, we have heard far too many excuses and scapegoating. This bipartisan legislation and our public safety investments are major steps towards making Colorado one of the ten safest states. The legislature sent strong bills to my desk in line with my budget and stepped up to invest more than the state has ever invested before in resources for local law enforcement, more and better policing, community interventions, youth violence prevention and brought more investigative power because this moment calls for leadership. I thank Speaker Alec Garnett for his dedicated leadership because every life is worth fighting for.”

The law will make it a felony to possess more than one gram of fentanyl compound/mixture. There is also a hope 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.

“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 Sen. 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.”

The law doesn’t come without controversy. 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen believes the law “fails miserably” in four areas. Allen explains that for the first time in history, a drug dealer who kills someone with fentanyl will be immune from prosecution if the dealer calls the police and cooperates with the investigation. Allen states that drug dealers who kill someone with less than four grams of fentanyl and are convicted in court will be probation eligible. Allen adds that the law provides protection to low-level drug dealers and users who claim they did not know they were in possession of fentanyl. Allen believes possessing one to four grams of fentanyl will now be harder to prosecute than any other illicit 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.

The new law goes into effect July 1.

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