Costly and Punitive Legislation Seeking to Punish Drug Sellers Introduced in CO Legislature

Press Release March 15, 2016
Media Contact

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<p>Art Way 720-288-6924<br />
Tommy McDonald 510-338-8827</p>

Denver – Rep. Mike Foote (D-District 12) has introduced HB 16-1344, which seeks to expand the definition of special offender in the Colorado Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 2013. Under the proposed bill, defendants who provide a controlled substance to someone who dies after using the substance will be considered special offenders and face level 1 drug felony penalties that include a maximum of 32 years imprisonment. Sen. John Cooke (R-District 13) is the Senate sponsor.

Public health and criminal justice reform advocates warn that the bill is misguided and will not reduce overdose deaths.

“Colorado, like the country as a whole, is facing rising overdose deaths and we’re just starting to rely on preventative solutions from our policymakers to stop those deaths from happening in the first place,” said Lisa Raville, executive director of Denver’s Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC). “We’ve made important progress in public health interventions for overdose prevention and we urgently need to build on them. Focusing on criminalizing those who’ve been involved in overdose emergencies only drives people back into the shadows and will potentially lead to more deaths.”

In addition to undermining public health efforts proven to save lives, HB 16-1344 represents a doubling down on a criminal justice approach that has proven ineffective, wasteful and inhumane. While the overall crime rate in Colorado has reduced dramatically over the past decade, the state continues to incarcerate over 19,000 individuals at an annual average cost of almost $37,000 per inmate. If it becomes law, HB 16-1344 will be extremely costly to enforce with absolutely no evidence that it will improve public health outcomes or deter demand for drugs or the supply chain that is sustained as a result.

“Since the capacity to prosecute drug sellers for criminally negligent homicide or reckless manslaughter is available under existing law, it’s hard to understand what purpose this bill serves other than to streamline a punitive criminal justice response for a public health issue,” said Art Way, JD, Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The vast majority of sellers are also users and to waste taxpayer money trying to appear tough on crime and incarcerate our way out of this problem is simply archaic and ineffective. Our resources are much better spent on front end interventions such as overdose prevention education, evidence-based drug treatment, and pre-arrest diversion programs.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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