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Proposed bill would toughen penalties for fentanyl dealers in Colorado

Lawmakers said 875 Coloradans died from fentanyl in 2021. Sponsors of a draft bill say it would give law enforcement tools to go after dealers of the dangerous drug.

DENVER — Colorado's governor, state lawmakers, district attorneys and families who lost loved ones to fentanyl crowded the west foyer of the state Capitol Thursday in support of a proposed bill that would toughen penalties for dealers of the deadly drug.

Democratic House Speaker Alex Garnett is one of the sponsors of the draft bill that has bipartisan support.

“Fentanyl is unlike any drug we’ve seen before, and we need to treat it differently," Garnett said. "This bill gives law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to put dangerous fentanyl dealers behind bars.”

The draft bill would make the distribution, manufacturing, dispensing or sale of fentanyl a level 1 felony if it weighs more than 50 grams, a level 2 felony if it weighs more than 4 grams, and level 3 felony if it weighs less than 4 grams.

“High level dealers who are knowingly bringing fentanyl into our communities and mixing it into drugs and selling that to our community members, our parents, our kids, our families, they should have very stiff consequences," said Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver).

Democratic Governor Jared Polis also touted part of the bill that would increase access to fentanyl testing kits to help law enforcement with investigations.

"Fentanyl is something that affects everyone and every community across our state," Polis said. "Quite simply, far too many families have experienced loss and tragedy."

VIDEO BELOW: Expert says fentanyl testing strips in schools won't promote drug use

As lawmakers spoke at the podium in the foyer, a group of parents stood behind them holding photos of their children who died from fentanyl. A couple of the parents, like Aretta Gallegos, took the mic to share their family stories.

Gallegos lost her daughter Brianna Mullins on April 14, 2021. She was a mother, wife, sister and daughter. Gallegos said Brianna purchased Percoset that turned out to be fentanyl. 

“My whole family and I remember that night like it was yesterday," Gallegos said. "We wake up every day reliving the same nightmare.”

Gallegos said she wishes her daughter's death had been investigated and that the person who sold her the deadly drug were held accountable. She said she'd never heard of fentanyl before her daughter's death. Gallegos supports the proposed bill and hopes it may prevent more deaths in Colorado.

“I’d rather have her here than be talking about it, but then at the same time, it’s good to talk about it cause hopefully, we could help somebody else," Gallegos said.

Absent from Thursday's event at the Capitol were members of law enforcement who feel the draft bill doesn't go far enough to crack down on fentanyl.

"We need to do more, and there needs to be harsher penalties," said Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown.

Brown echoed the criticism expressed in a joint statement issued by the County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police.

"This drug is so deadly that possession of any amount should have a felony consequence," the statement read in part. "Since no amount of fentanyl is safe, this coalition will seek amendments to elevate 'simple possession' to a felony."

Sheriff Brown said his deputies deal with fentanyl "probably daily." He described a recent case in January where deputies arrested a person on I-225 who had approximately 10,000 pills containing fentanyl and dozens of firearms.

“We need to have strict penalties for possession because recreational fentanyl is not a thing," Brown said.

The sheriff commended the draft bill for going after fentanyl dealers and he acknowledged it was a good step.

“We don’t want people to die," he said. "We don’t want Colorado communities to fall victim to this poison.”

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