DENVER (CBS4) – Opponents of a bill addressing Colorado’s fentanyl crisis stepped up their efforts to derail the bill on Tuesday. The bill faced maybe its biggest test yet in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Dozens of people, including treatment providers, defense attorneys and some lawmakers, protested the bill at a rally outside the Capitol. While much of the bill isn’t controversial, including mandatory prison for many people who sell fentanyl resulting in death and more money for treatment and education, one provision could end up killing the entire bill.
It makes possession alone of small amounts of fentanyl a felony.
Paul Quinn is a former director of the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.
“I’ve studied the drug laws in America and the world for over 50 years. Making possession of any drug a felony is the stupidest thing you can ever do,” he said.
Supporters of the bill insist fentanyl is not just any drug. Two milligrams – the equivalent of a few grains of salt – can kill and it’s now in every street drug.
Matt Riviera lost both of his sons when they took what they thought was oxycodone.
“I got the knock at 2 a.m. the next morning that the boys were gone, and I just went into complete shock,” he said.
Andrew and Stephen Riviera’s deaths were ruled an overdose and, under current law, the killer could get probation if caught. The bill would change that.
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty says it will help deter dealers.
“They will take note of it and take their business elsewhere. Those who fail to do that and kill people in our state will be held fully accountable with mandatory state prison sentences,” Dougherty said.
The bill also includes millions of dollars for treatment and allows people caught with small amounts of fentanyl to plead down to a misdemeanor if they complete treatment.
Former defense attorney Phil Cherner says more treatment is needed but not forced treatment.
“Treatment at the point of a gun doesn’t work.” He says increased criminal penalties also don’t work. “There’s no correlation between increasing the penalty and solving the problem of people dying.”
Riviera says the bill isn’t perfect, but doing nothing isn’t an option.
“We have got to stop this epidemic. People are dying every day.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up several amendments to the bill. Prosecutors want to remove a provision that requires someone know they have fentanyl in their possession to be charged with a felony.
They say no other drug law has that requirement. Many opponents say possession alone should never be a felony. The committee will vote on the bill Thursday.