DENVER (CBS4)– Colorado lawmakers unveiled a bill they believe will be key in fighting the fentanyl crisis in the community.
“Fentanyl is unlike any drug we have seen before and we need to treat it differently,” Speaker Alec Garnett said.
Garnett led the work drafting the bill, which calls for millions of dollars to go toward treatment and prevention programs including better access to fentanyl strips and Narcan.
It would also develop a new penalty for dealers linked to an overdose death and lowers the threshold for prosecutors wanting to charge someone with intent to distribute.
“We are going to go after the distribution networks the dealers and the people bringing these laced drugs into our state while not criminalizing the people who are struggling with substance abuse,” Garnett said.
The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and Harm Reduction action center support a public health approach but argue against penalty changes, saying increased criminal penalties do little to interrupt drug sales or supply.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and other law enforcement officials say from an enforcement standpoint the bill is lacking in penalties.
“I’m disappointed. I think this falls short,” Pazen said.
He and other law enforcement officials, as well as some district attorneys, were hoping to see lawmakers reverse a 2019 law that lowered possession of four grams of fentanyl and other drugs to a misdemeanor.
“Four grams of fentanyl can kill 2,000 people,” Pazen said, “that’s not a user amount.”
The gap in enforcement, Pazen believes will limit the state’s ability to recover.
“My concern is this is the tip of the iceberg; my concern is this is likely to get worse. I’m hopeful we can work in a collaborative way to find real solutions,” he said.
Gov. Jared Polis supports the bill, he was at the unveiling on Thursday, and in a statement says he applauds the bipartisan effort that went into crafting the bill.