DENVER — Happy New Year!
July 1 is a new year for government budgets and a day many new laws take effect.
The state's new fentanyl bill takes effect today, making it a felony again for possessing one-to-four grams of drugs with fentanyl.
The bipartisan bill reversed a 2019 bipartisan bill that reduced that type of fentanyl possession to a misdemeanor.
On the same day the law took effect, the Denver Gazette broke a story about a fentanyl bust by Colorado State Patrol (CSP). On June 20, a traffic stop by CSP Troopers on eastbound I-70 near Georgetown resulted in the seizure of 114 pounds of pure fentanyl.
CSP provided a photo of the bust showing 48 one-kilo bricks of the drug on the trooper's hood.
Another traffic stop on June 18, on northbound I-25 south of Denver, resulted in troopers finding 10 burrito-like wrapped packages with 14 pounds of fentanyl pills. Possession of 14 pounds of fentanyl pills, or 114 pounds of pure fentanyl, was a felony with or without the new law that took effect on Friday.
The state legislature passed the new possession law on the last day of the legislature on May 11.
Based on testimony during the committee hearings, the number of pills that 114 pounds of pure fentanyl could create is around 500,000.
Dr. Sarah Axelrath, a primary care and addiction medicine physician, testified against the fentanyl bill.
She called the bust of 114 pounds "neutral."
"This news does not impact the people who I work with. I work primarily with people experiencing homelessness, with severe substance use disorder, most of whom are using fentanyl," said Axelrath. "They will be able to find fentanyl tomorrow just like they could today, so I don't think this is going to have much of an on-the-ground level impact on people who are actually using drugs."
She believes another 114 pounds of drugs will simply replace the 114 pounds of drugs seized by police.
"If our goal is to keep people alive and to reduce rates of drug use associated harms, then focusing on supply side interventions, like getting drugs off the street and stopping the influx of drugs into communities, is actually not the solution. The solution is focusing on demand and trying to reduce the demand for drugs in the first place," said Axelrath.
The fentanyl law that is now in effect allows a defendant arrested on the felony charge to try to convince a jury that they made a "reasonable mistake" that the drug they had included fentanyl, in an attempt to get the felony reduced to a misdemeanor. Though, that requires the person to go through the court process and not try to plea earlier.
The new law also makes it a serious felony for the drug dealer if the user dies with a fentanyl-laced drug.
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