DENVER (CBS4) - A bill aimed at addressing the growing fentanyl crisis will go before Colorado lawmakers in early April. It's expected to be met with much debate. The powerful drug is now showing up in nearly every community in Colorado and is responsible for hundreds of deaths last year alone.
The state's two largest cities -- Colorado Springs and Denver -- continue to see a rising death toll.
"You cannot look at this challenge and look at it as a political stance because it's not. It's a stance of protecting lives," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.
Hancock expressed his concerns about the bill following its introduction, saying while it has strong components for treatment and to aid law enforcement, it doesn't fully address the problem.
"Where I am challenged is that we are not addressing the issue of possession of fentanyl," he said.
Pointing to a change in Colorado law in 2019 that lowered possession of 4 grams of fentanyl and other drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor, Hancock says that change should have excluded fentanyl.
"We can't allow someone to walk around with enough fentanyl which basically equates to 2,000 bullets in their pocket to harm people," he said.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers announced he is joining Hancock and others in arguing that the bill is inadequate when it comes to addressing the fentanyl crisis. Suthers says any amount of fentanyl is unsafe and the penalties should reflect that.
"To send a message about the seriousness of this epidemic we have to have very harsh consequences and that is not something they have accomplished with this bill," Suthers said.
One mayor, Suthers, is a long-standing Republican with a history as a prosecutor; the other (Hancock) an established Democrat with years of experience running the state's largest city, and they're now on common ground.
House Speaker Alec Garnett who led the effort to draft a bill addressing the fentanyl crisis, says it is not a perfect solution, but it is a first step, and that their first focus was getting drug dealers off the streets, not impacting those suffering from addiction.
"I think we all share a common goal: We want to save lives. We want to help those who are suffering from substance abuse to get the treatment that they need. I think what we are trying to work through together is what is the best tool for that?" he said.
Garnett says he continues to have discussions about how to address the issue of possession, with law enforcement and community leaders including drug reform and harm reduction groups who have long argued that increased penalties do nothing to reduce drug use or drug supply.
The bill will go before the Colorado Judiciary Committee on April 12.
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