Fri, May 13, 2022 2:45 PM
By By Robert Davis The Center Square contributor, The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Current and former Colorado officials who are critical of recently-passed fentanyl legislation are calling for a special session to further address the crisis in the state.
The calls come just after the General Assembly wrapped up its 73rd legislative session on Wednesday during which lawmakers passed a bill to increase the penalties for possession and distribution of compounds containing fentanyl.
Gov. Jared Polis views the bill "as a big step in the right direction to make Colorado safer and he is strongly supportive of additional steps," spokesperson Conor Cahill told The Center Square in a statement Friday.
Some local officials and Republican lawmakers argue the bill doesn't go far enough in deterring crime and fails to address the crisis.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers on Thursday called for the governor to veto the bill and hold a special session.
“The essence of what they’ve done is to, in my opinion, not deal with the situation in any shape or form,” he said during a press conference.
Suthers said his main concern is a provision put into the bill that will allow those who possess drugs with more than one gram of fentanyl in them to affirmatively claim their ignorance, thereby shifting the burden onto prosecutors to prove otherwise.
District Attorney Michael Allen, who oversees El Paso County, said the bill "has created what is in essence a fake felony for possession of one to four grams of fentanyl."
Allen added that language added to the bill before it passed will make it a "very rare circumstance in which we and the police can charge someone with a felony."
Common Sense Institute (CSI) criminal justice fellows George Brauchler and Mitch Morrissey – both former district attorneys – also called for a special session to pass legislation that further addresses the fentanyl crisis.
“We simply cannot ignore this issue. Governor Polis should immediately call for a special session and pass consequential legislation to address the fentanyl crisis,” Morrissey said. “Law enforcement officers, business leaders, parents and loved ones are begging for the tools necessary to prosecute those responsible for trafficking this horrific drug.”
Colorado saw over 800 fentanyl-related deaths last year, according to an analysis by CSI.
House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said in a statement Thursday that the bill is “completely ineffective in addressing the root problems of this crisis.”
“Without rational measures in place to curb the distribution and the rampant use of this drug, criminals will be allowed to deal this death, which has been likened to a weapon of mass destruction,” he added.
Cahill added that "it would be counterproductive to leave this bill on the table."
"[The bill] is a step toward making Colorado a safer place and this bill was overwhelmingly bipartisan with a number of Republicans joining Democrats voting in support of enhanced criminal penalties for dealers and for possession, expanded detection and testing and supportive drug treatment services," he said. "There is no question that this bill has stronger criminal penalties for dealers and pill presses, which along with the other comprehensive pieces will reduce deaths and make the public safer."