State legislators in Sacramento have passed plenty of bills on fentanyl treatment and recovery services, but the bills intended to punish dealers and users of the drug have stalled.
In the final week of April, the Chronicle reported that state Assemblymembers stalled two bills that would have increased punishment for fentanyl dealers, on the grounds that someone could be punished for unknowingly giving fentanyl to another person, as the drug is often part of cross-contamination or sold under the pretense that it’s a different drug. Earlier that week, they put a pause on a separate bill that would have penalized people for selling fentanyl on social media. That same week in the state Senate, a bill that would have allowed homicide charges for fentanyl dealers also stalled in committee.
Today’s Chronicle picks up on this as a pattern, where state legislators are more inclined to pass treatment laws than punishment laws. Their rationale is largely that the harsher punishment bills would unfairly target casual users, who may not have even intended to use fentanyl, instead of punishing the drug cartels and kingpins. At the same time, they have been able to pass bills promoting Narcan and addiction treatment.
“We need to take a two-pronged approach,” Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-San Leandro) told the Chronicle. “It’s a public safety issue but also public health, and I went toward public health first.”
Ortega did successfully get her bill requiring insurers to cover the cost of Narcan though the committee.
And it’s a fair question whether the War on Drugs-style tactics of the 1980s and 90s ever actually worked, The Chron points to a Pew Charitable Trust study showing that in 1980, there were 25,000 people in state or federal prison on drug charges, and by 2018 there were 300,000.
“The analysis found no statistically significant relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests,” the study says.
The Assembly committees have passed two bills increasing punishment for dealers, and one bill to add more police resources to address fentanyl dealing. Those bills are still just proposals, and have not been heard on the full Senate or Assembly floor.
Image: fentanyl opiate in plastic bag in hand close-up (Getty Images)