Colorado’s ruling Democrats are on a collision course with the public over crime. The public is frightened and fed up, and Democratic officeholders know it.

But they are in a bind. They talk tough about the need for law and order, yet they can’t seem to break ranks with their party’s soft-on-crime fringe. So, they wind up talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Our state’s devastating fentanyl epidemic is Exhibit A.

As fentanyl overdose deaths have skyrocketed, calls for action from every quarter have reached a critical mass. Gov. Jared Polis has been among those demanding intervention by lawmakers as the lethal, synthetic opioid floods our state from Mexico and China.

Polis’ fellow Democrats who control both chambers of the Legislature have started expressing concerns about spiraling fentanyl deaths, belatedly, now that they are making headlines.

All eyes are on the Legislature because it is partly responsible for the crisis. Three years ago, in a fit of “justice reform,” lawmakers decriminalized fentanyl along with a host of other hard drugs. As a result, someone in possession of up to 4 grams of fentanyl — enough to kill up to 2,000 people — can only be ticketed by police. As if it were an illegal U-turn.

It’s time for the Legislature to make a U-turn and undo some of the damage it has done. It needs to reverse its 2019 legislation and recriminalize Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances — fentanyl as well as deadly and destructive drugs like heroin and meth — and make them felonies once more. Given the acute need for urgent action on fentanyl, lawmakers at least should recriminalize that drug if not the others.

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Incredibly, that is starting to look unlikely. A report this week by our news affiliate Colorado Politics suggests ruling Democrats are more likely to cop out. Rather than fix the law they broke, they seem inclined to adopt a half-baked, half-measure and serve it up to the press and public as eyewash.

The 2019 bill’s prime sponsor, Denver Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod, should sponsor an outright repeal accompanied by an apology to the entire state. Instead, she offered empty, evasive platitudes — “we have to do something about it” — while preposterously insisting her bill wasn’t to blame.

Instead, she pivoted to the issue’s purported complexity and split hairs. What if someone possesses the drug for their use? What if someone is peddling it but doesn’t realize it is fentanyl because it is found in so many other drugs? What if someone unknowingly uses fentanyl — and then faces a felony on what will turn out to be “the worst day of their lives”?

House Speaker Alec Garnett of Denver — who should be leading the chorus of mea culpas and demanding repeal of the 2019 law — seemed as rudderless, feckless and full of excuses as Herod. After making clear the 2019 law wasn’t on the table, he pronounced to Colorado Politics, “I didn’t go looking for this issue … It kind of found me.” Not quite a profile in courage.

Maybe Herod and Garnett are too wedded to their party’s dogma of crime coddling to care that suspects found with 2 or 3 grams of fentanyl are probably peddling it and typically have a history of other crimes, as well. But you’d think both pols — known to be hungry for higher office — might want to consider what inaction could do to their political prospects.

The Gazette Editorial Board