Fentanyl is poison, and it’s time that Colorado policy makers recognize it as such.
Drug dealers are lacing recreational drugs with fentanyl, often unbeknownst to drug users, to get users hooked. If tobacco companies did this, Congress and the Colorado General Assembly would jump to action. The same would be true if drug dealers were lacing drugs with cyanide. Why are we treating fentanyl differently?
Fentanyl is poison. Fentanyl is killing people across our state every day. The General Assembly made a terrible problem worse in 2019 when it “defelonized” possession of up to 4 grams. Legislators need to remedy this problem now by “refelonizing” distribution and possession of fentanyl.
Fentanyl is destroying the lives of far too many Coloradans. In 2021, fentanyl overdoses killed at least 767 – a 42 percent increase over 2020. Over the past two years the number of fentanyl fatalities grew faster here than in any other state, except Alaska. Some of the recent reports have been heartbreaking. Five Commerce City residents recently died from fentanyl overdoses after apparently using recreational drugs laced with fentanyl.
Family and friends of one of the Commerce City victims have reached out to us in recent weeks. People who love her are committed to making sure her death brings about change.
We owe it to all Coloradans to act. Some people willingly ingest fentanyl. Many do not. No matter the circumstances of their exposure to and overdose from fentanyl, every one of these victims was created in the image of God and has value.
Fentanyl largely originates in China, is smuggled through Mexico, and flows across our Southern border. That’s not something Colorado lawmakers can do anything about, but that does not mean there is nothing the Colorado General Assembly can do. We can re-felonize fentanyl and give prosecutors and police the tools they need to crack down on the fentanyl dealers who prey on Colorado citizens.
Sounds simple, right? Refelonize and crack down on a drug that is ravaging society. Sadly, no.
The Colorado General Assembly seems intent on treating fentanyl dealers with kid gloves. In 2019, the General Assembly passed, and Gov. Polis signed, legislation “defelonizing” possession and distribution of a myriad of drugs, fentanyl among them.
While many lawmakers now recognize that law for the mistake it was, several “criminal justice reform” proponents and lawmakers are unwilling to revisit the 2019 law.
Our goal is not to question the motives of the authors of the 2019 law. While that law was largely supported by Democrats, several Republicans supported this criminal-justice reform as well.
The point is this: At least as it relates to fentanyl, Colorado lawmakers have an obligation to act. There is no good reason for any person to possess 4 grams of fentanyl. Two milligrams of fentanyl is considered lethal to an individual, so 4 grams is enough to kill 2,000 people.
Nor is it sufficient to criminalize distribution of fentanyl but not possession. Given the lethality of fentanyl, possession of up to 4 grams is tantamount to distribution. Why else would anyone possess 4 grams of fentanyl? To adequately equip police and prosecutors to deal with this crisis, Colorado lawmakers should criminalize distribution and possession.
There is bipartisan support for getting tough on fentanyl. Democrats including Gov. Polis, Attorney General Phil Weiser, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock agree on this.
Refelonization would be a simple bill, two or three pages. In conjunction with Senate colleagues, we have a straightforward bill proposal to recriminalize fentanyl, but it requires the permission of the Senate President or House Speaker to be introduced. Thus far, they have refused to approve the request to introduce it.
Why? Are legislative leaders so captive to a small, fringe movement of the progressive left that they are unwilling to put a practical, much-needed fix to a vote of the General Assembly
Coloradans deserve better. They are watching.
Barbara Kirkmeyer represents Colorado’s 23rd District in the State Senate. Steve Reams is Weld County Sheriff. Both live in Weld County.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to firstname.lastname@example.org.