Colorado’s legislative session is nearing its halfway point — and ruling Democrats have yet to answer the governor’s call for a crackdown on the deadly fentanyl that is killing Coloradans at an alarming rate. While lawmakers dally, Coloradans are dying.
The epidemic of fentanyl overdose deaths is now a staple of headlines, like the deaths of five people last week — at just one residence — in Commerce City. And the hard numbers are terrifying. The surge in deaths caused by the synthetic opioid in our state has outstripped that of every other state but Alaska since 2019 — soaring 382% over the past two years.
And yet, we’re only hearing crickets from the Legislature.
Maybe that’s because it is the Legislature that bears some of the responsibility for the sad situation we are now in. Three years ago, lawmakers inexplicably downgraded possession of fentanyl and an array of other Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances from a felony to a misdemeanor. Now, possession of up to 4 grams of fentanyl — which could kill up to 2,000 people — warrants no more than a ticket from police.
HB19-1263 was touted as “justice reform” — ruling Democrats’ agenda for bringing “equity” to law enforcement. In reality, the 2019 legislation was just a free pass for career drug dealers.
The bill’s sponsors — Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver and Shane Sandridge of Colorado Springs, Sen. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs, and former Sen. Vickie Marble of Fort Collins — have yet to explain how it makes sense to prevent the arrest of someone with enough fentanyl in his backpack to kill everyone on a city block almost instantly.
Gov. Jared Polis wants to fix that. He has said as much publicly, most recently, to our editorial board. So, it is time for him to step in. He is the standard bearer of his party, and it is his fellow Democrats who have been dragging their feet in re-criminalizing fentanyl.
Left to their own accord, the Democratic lawmakers who run the two chambers will continue to split hairs in hopes of brokering a compromise with the holdouts in their ranks who insist on coddling criminals. Evidently, even the legislative leadership doesn’t get how urgently this crisis needs to be addressed.
Polis does get it, and it looks like it is up to him to light a fire under lawmakers. He and his legislative liaisons know how it works. If some members of the House need to be taken to the woodshed, take them. If some need to be leaned on, lean on them. If ever there is a case to be made for playing political hardball, it is now — literally, to save lives.
The national group Families Against Fentanyl has been advocating for the federal government to formally classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. That is an apt description.
In that light, this is no time for legislative half-measures — to say nothing of outright inaction. This is not the time to worry about saving face for politically ambitious lawmakers who have an eye on higher office. This is not the time for preserving the pet projects of some lawmakers who think letting drug peddlers roam free is “harm reduction.”
Governor, your party is failing you on the State Capitol’s second floor. The building has four elevators and five stairways that will get you there. It’s time for you to step upstairs — and put your foot down.
The Gazette editorial board