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Colorado lawmakers announce legislation increasing penalties for fentanyl offenses

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Robert Davis | The Center Square contributor

(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.