Does defelonizing fentanyl possession send a mixed message?
Earlier this year, Colorado state lawmakers passed a bill defelonizing possession of most drugs for personal use. Under the new law, you could theoretically possess up to four grams of most drugs and only face a misdemeanor. This includes opioids such as carfentanil and fentanyl, which are so potent that a few milligrams or less are enough to cause a fatal overdose.
According to the Colorado Sun, the bill had bipartisan support in the state legislature, passing the house 43 to 20 and the Senate 20 to 15. The governor signed the bill earlier this year, and it takes effect on March 1st. However, some prosecutors have raised concerns that the bill sends a mixed message about the dangerousness of potent opioids included in the bill.
Reducing incarceration for people caught with heroin, cocaine or other narcotics was the goal of the bill. However, carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. Four grams is equivalent to 200,000 fatal doses of carfentanil and 13,000 fatal doses of fentanyl. One district attorney claims that making possession of deadly drugs in such quantities a misdemeanor sends a mixed message at a time when there is an effort to raise public awareness about their adverse effects.
Sponsors of the bill, which include both Democratic and Republican state representatives, acknowledge the danger posed by potent narcotics like fentanyl. However, they claim that the new bill helps people with drug problems by directing them into treatment programs rather than jails, saving taxpayers money in the process. They also assert that, under the new law, someone in possession of large amounts of fentanyl or carfentanil could still face felony charges related to distribution. The argument is that it would not be difficult to prove intent to distribute when a person is in possession of drugs in that amount.
Despite the new law, a person in possession of potent opioids like fentanyl could still face federal charges and the possibility of incarceration for one to four years. The new law applies to most drugs, with the exception of date-rape drugs, possession of which in any amount is still a felony.
The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.