(The Center Square) - Colorado lawmakers unveiled plans at the state Capitol Thursday for legislation to increase penalties for fentanyl-related offenses.
Lawmakers said the bill, which will be introduced this week, is part of a larger legislative package to address crime and drug overdoses in the state. According to data from the state health department, more than 800 people died from fentanyl-related causes last year, up from 540 in 2019.
"Fentanyl is extremely deadly," Governor Jared Polis, who supports the proposal, said during a press conference Thursday. "It deserves different legal treatment than other drugs. I think that increased criminal penalties are a key part of our response, as well as better detection and prevention."
Polis was joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers who said the state needs to increase its penalties for fentanyl distribution. A law passed in 2019 made "personal possession" of the drug - or possession of no more than 4 grams - a misdemeanor offense.
The new bill would make it a felony to distribute fentanyl that leads to a person's death, but leaves the 2019 rule in place, a move that law enforcement groups said "falls short of protecting our communities."
"We must re-establish firm criminal consequences for dealing and possessing deadly amounts of this dangerous drug. The bill's provisions can and should do more," said a joint statement from the County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police.
The bill also includes a $20 million investment for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to distribute Narcan, a drug that can reverse the fatal effects of an opioid overdose.
Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, said "it's worth the experiment" to see if the bill can help reduce fentanyl deaths in Colorado.