On the heels of a half-hearted and grudging attempt by the Legislature last year to recriminalize deadly fentanyl — overdue and urgently needed amid a statewide epidemic of overdoses — lawmakers are proposing to decriminalize it yet again. Yes, really.
This time, they’d sneak it in through the back door in the guise of a “Good Samaritan” policy. House Bill 1167 would extend immunity from arrest and prosecution to fentanyl peddlers whose victims overdose — if the pushers call for help.
And if charges are pressed anyway, according to a legislative summary, the bill, “creates an affirmative defense to the prosecution for unlawful distribution, manufacturing, dispensing, transfer, or sale” of fentanyl so long as the dealer reports overdoses to authorities and remains at the scene.
That’s right; the authors of this measure view those who deal in fentanyl — or, as the naive “harm reduction” crowd would put it, those who “share” fentanyl — as part of the response team.
In fact, the pushers are the “true first responders,” Lisa Raville of the Harm Reduction Action Center — one of this bizarrely misguided bill’s cheerleaders — told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. All we have to do is let them off the hook for “sharing” a synthetic opioid so lethal that a gram could kill 500. The bill was approved by the committee 10-2.
It’s part of the upside-down logic of the “justice reform” movement, ushered in over the past several years by the General Assembly’s ruling Democrats.
It was the same crowd that decriminalized possession of fentanyl, along with a host of other hard drugs, in 2019. That made it a misdemeanor. In the face of a public outcry over spiraling fentanyl deaths, lawmakers relented, a bit, and made possession of a gram or more a felony again. And now, this.
Embarrassingly — yet, not surprisingly — Denver’s notoriously soft-on-crime District Attorney Beth McCann testified in favor of the preposterous bill. It’s worth noting the state district attorneys association stayed out of the fray due to a split in its ranks.
The divide lies between the likes of McCann, and her counterparts in various other jurisdictions who are trying to do the job they were elected to do, which is to put criminals behind bars.
The bill purports to address a scenario in which someone has given fentanyl to another who overdoses. The thinking goes that the giver is likelier to summon help if there’s no fear of getting busted. It’s at best a flimsy premise that requires connecting a lot of dots.
A far more realistic scenario is the cynical drug dealer and career criminal who, if this law passes, will be dealt a get-out-of-jail-free card so long as he sticks around long enough to call 911. While he’s on the phone, he can watch another life slip away.
This bill is an insult to the memory of every Coloradan who has died of a fentanyl overdose; there were 912 of them in 2021, the latest year for which full data is available.
It also is an insult to the original good Samaritan of biblical renown.
You’ll recall he was the one who came to the aid of the badly beaten robbery victim who had been left to die at the roadside. Only, it wasn’t the Samaritan who had caused the harm in the first place.