COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is calling on Governor Polis to veto a fentanyl bill that was passed by Colorado lawmakers.
The bill aims to address the state’s fentanyl crisis and last-minute changes would allow a jury or judge to decide whether a person charged with felony fentanyl possession between 1 and 4 grams knew the drug compound contained fentanyl and have the charge lowered to a misdemeanor.
Mayor Suthers released the following statement prior to a Thursday morning press event:
“The bill that the Colorado legislature passed is wholly inadequate to address this critical problem that is resulting in the death of far too many Coloradans,” Suthers said. “In placing upon prosecutors the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the substance they distributed was fentanyl, the legislature, in almost every instance, is protecting the defendant from felony prosecution. The stark reality remains that someone in Colorado can distribute enough fentanyl to kill hundreds of people and avoid serious consequences by merely asserting they didn’t know it was fentanyl. The Democrat majorities in the legislature have thus far shown themselves wholly incapable of adequately dealing with this public health crisis. I hope the governor will attempt to rectify the situation and I hope the voters of Colorado recognize this as the failure of leadership that it is.”
District Attorney Michael Allen also released a statement that reads, in part:
"Fentanyl has ravaged Colorado by taking lives at an unprecedented level, and it has impacted every corner of this great state. All Coloradans deserved a thoughtful and effective legislative response on the first day of the 2022 legislative session. Instead, we were forced to wait seventy-two days when, on March 25, the “Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention” bill was finally introduced. Predictably, the result was a rushed and flailing effort that will prove to be inadequate to address the impact fentanyl is having across Colorado, and here in the Pikes Peak Region.
The Democrat majorities in the legislature failed to listen to those who are trusted to uphold public safety and ignored pleas from victims of this deadly drug. This effort ultimately provides protections to the fentanyl drug dealers who are killing our loved ones, neighbors, and friends."
News5 is following this story as both sides continue the discussion on how the passed measure addresses the current fentanyl crisis.
Colorado lawmakers approve fentanyl bill; jury would decide if person knew drugs had fentanyl
With just over an hour left in the 2022 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers passed a finalized bill that aims to address the state’s fentanyl crisis, approving last-minute changes that would allow a jury or judge to decide whether a person charged with felony fentanyl possession between 1 and 4 grams knew the drug compound contained fentanyl and have the charge lowered to a misdemeanor.
A conference committee of House and Senate members came to the agreement Wednesday afternoon after the House failed to agree to amendments earlier this week made in the Senate, which stripped out a portion of the bill that said a person would only face a drug felony charge if they “knowingly” possessed between 1 and 4 grams of a drug compound containing fentanyl. The conference committee passed the final report 6-0.
Then the House and Senate both approved the conference committee’s finalized report and repassed the bill despite protests from some Republicans, primarily Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and several House Republicans, that the burden of proof would be placed on prosecutors to disprove a person's claims they did not know the compound contained fentanyl, and claims from law enforcement advisers made to lawmakers that each possession charge for between 1 and 4 grams would effectively be a level 1 drug misdemeanor.
The final agreement would allow someone who is charged with a drug felony for possessing 1-4 grams of a compound containing fentanyl to trigger a process in court by which they could present evidence they did not know the drugs they were in possession of contained fentanyl, and the jury or judge would be able to whether decide to drop the charge to a level 1 drug misdemeanor.
The bill is perhaps one of the most controversial and consequential of the 2022 session. Before this year’s legislative session, lawmakers pledged to do something during the session to address the quickly increasing number of fentanyl related overdose deaths.
Originally, the bill would have made possession of more than four grams of a drug compound that contains fentanyl a level 4 drug felony and strengthened drug felony penalties for distribution of compounds that contain fentanyl.
But as some lawmakers, primarily Republicans, worked during House committee and floor hearings to try to make possession of any amount of a drug compound containing fentanyl a felony, Democrats and Republicans agreed to an amendment that changed the measure. Under the House-amended measure, a person would commit a felony if they “knowingly” possessed more than one gram of a drug compound containing any amount of fentanyl.
But the Colorado Senate went further and amended the fentanyl bill last Thursday to remove the “knowingly” language, then passed it on Friday, which would mean anyone possessing more than one gram of any drug with even a speck of fentanyl in it would be charged with a felony. Lawmakers, prosecutors and police officials have all stated over the past several months that nearly every street drug is being found cut with fentanyl.
Aside from the criminalization of possession, the most controversial part of the bill, the measure made headway through the General Assembly as bill sponsors and other lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – said they had to do something to address the scourge of fentanyl, even if the bill that goes to the governor's desk is not perfect. A proposed amendment in the Senate to sunset the felony possession limits in 2025 failed to make the final measure after it was removed in the conference committee.
The final measure also provides for medical care for people with addictions inside jail and upon their release.
Denver7's Blair Miller, Meghan Lopez, and Colette Bordelon contributed to this report
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