fentanyl halfway into 2022 than during all of 2021. Families across the country are mourning the loss of loved ones daily due to fatal drug overdoses. However, it has recently become alarmingly apparent to Colorado policymakers, advocates, and public health officials that fentanyl has taken the top seat as the most lethal drug in the state and all of the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports fentanyl as the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 45, outpacing suicide, Covid-19, and traffic accident fatalities.

What is fentanyl and what makes it so deadly?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, 50 plus times more potent than morphine. Initially designed for chronic cancer pain treatment, today, fentanyl is often illegally produced and frequently laced with heroin. Users are typically unaware they are consuming the drug. Manufacturers and dealers are often too heavy-handed with the narcotic, resulting in waves of overdoses.

Evolving Fentanyl Laws in Colorado

According to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, fentanyl is a Schedule II narcotic. In Colorado, possession of up to 4 grams of most Schedule 1 and 2 controlled substances is considered a misdemeanor and not a felony due to a 2019 state law that defelonized most drugs that previously would have qualified as Level 4 felonies. Despite the law’s good intentions, fatal and non-fatal overdoses of fentanyl have exponentially risen since taking effect. The perspective on the drug and law has since changed as deaths have started to climb again. Recently (as of May 25, 2022), vigorously debated measures addressing the fentanyl overdose crisis were put into law by Governor Jared Polis.

Synthetic opiates: changing criminal penalties

New law HB22-1326, which went into effect July 1, 2022, makes an exception for fentanyl. As the drug is much more lethal and associated with heightened dangers than other controlled substances, the bill’s sponsors argue it is reasonable to punish those carrying smaller quantities more harshly.

The decision is in line with the viewpoints of Colorado’s District Attorneys Council and law enforcement agencies.

The new legislation HB22-1326 stipulates the following:

  • If someone possesses more than 1 gram of fentanyl or any drug containing it, they can be charged with a felony by Colorado prosecutors.
  • If you are a first-time offender, you may receive up to six months in jail and up to two years on probation.
  • The bill requires county jails to offer inmates addiction treatment, including medication.

Funding provided under the new bill:

  • $5 million for long-term education campaigns
  • $10 million for emergency treatment services
  • $20 million for the distribution of opiate antagonists, sometimes referred to as overdose reversal drugs such as Narcan
  • $600,000 for the distribution of fentanyl test strips

Bill supporters expressed that funding and mandating treatment are essential. The rationale behind the new law is that requiring treatment would aid in the recovery of more people struggling with drug use disorder and addiction in Colorado.

Advocates and policymakers are not unanimous.

Despite massive support for the bill, some conservative legislators and law enforcement officials are against the new law calling for a more drastic approach known as “zero-tolerance” toward controlled substances and drug use in Colorado.

Although addiction advocates understand lowering the qualifying amount for a felony to only 1 gram will result in dealers being justly penalized, there are concerns. Individuals caught with possession are usually unaware of the content of the heroin they have purchased. The trouble lies in perpetuating a negative drug use cycle and jail time. In addition, a felony can stain an individual’s future; options for recovery, employment, and housing become narrower and additionally challenging.

Contact an experienced Boulder drug defense attorney if you’ve been arrested for possessing fentanyl or any other controlled substance. A potential felony conviction and additional charges can negatively impact your future, employment opportunities, and more. Consulting with a proficient Boulder drug defense lawyer can also help you avoid unjust sentencing.