DENVER (KDVR) — There are just a few days left in this year’s legislative session and lawmakers just made a big change to a bill with a lot of eyes on it.
Senators approved a change to the Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention measure that is leaving lawmakers torn about whether it’s the right answer to the state’s crisis.
Senators approved an amendment that would make it a felony to have more than a gram of any form of fentanyl whether someone knows it or not. Now, House members will have to choose if that decision becomes state law.
Knowledge of fentanyl possession at issue
Senators at the Capitol were torn over the amendment removing the word “knowingly” from the proposal.
“If we pass this amendment — even if you are trying to make the best choices for yourself and carrying testing strips, carrying naloxone — this is just dangerous. I ask for a no vote,” said Denver Sen. Julie Gonzales.
Advocates for keeping the word “knowingly” in the measure fear without it, those who need treatment could wind up behind bars.
“The word ‘knowingly’ really allows for some opportunity for proof that people know they have fentanyl. If we remove that word out of the legislation, then we are going to see a lot of people go to prison again with felonies,” said Tonya Wheeler, executive director of Advocates for Recovery Colorado. “When I’m working with the community we work with, I’m seeing the end results of them having felonies on their records: the inability to obtain housing and employment. Some of the resources that are available stop being available when someone has a felony conviction.”
Others said removing the word helps district attorneys put more people looking to deal the drug behind bars.
“Short of wearing a T-shirt that says, ‘I’m with fentanyl,’ or someone announcing, ‘Hey, you got me, I’ve got fentanyl in my pockets,’ it would have been impossible to prove at trial,” FOX31 Legal Analyst George Brauchler, the former 18th Judicial District attorney, said. “It would have made it not only hard to get that felony, it would have treated fentanyl more harshly in terms of proof than cocaine, meth, heroin, fill in the blank. So in stripping out those words, all they’ve really done is put fentanyl in the same category as all those other drugs.”
Colorado fentanyl bill in hands of the state House
Senators narrowly sent the measure back to the House, leaving the fate of the change in the hands of state representatives.
“I hope that our colleagues in the other chamber will be thoughtful as to what they do,” said Sen. Chris Holbert of Douglas County. I think they have three options: concur, adhere or call a conference committee. I know there are some in the House who very much want the conference committee to meet and to take that piece out and put it back where it was, and I know there are some who would very much like to concur and leave the bill where it is and leave that piece out of the bill, holding the amendment that we made in the Senate. I don’t know where the story ends.”
Lawmakers are running out of time to negotiate the measure. The session ends on Wednesday.
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