Assembly Committee Approves Bill to Address Fentanyl Drug Trafficking

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Assembly Public Safety Committee today on a bipartisan 5 to 1 vote approved Senate Bill 1323 by Senators Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) that would enhance criminal penalties for illegal distributors of fentanyl, which has been linked to numerous deaths in California this year. The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for its consideration.

“Today’s vote means we are one step closer to treating fentanyl drug trafficking the same as heroin and cocaine trafficking,” said Bates. “With illegal sources of fentanyl contributing to the tragic overdoses of many individuals, it is essential that we do what we can to go after the traffickers. Simply put, state law should not continue to treat fentanyl as less serious than heroin or cocaine.”

Said Huff, “In late March the Sacramento area alone saw 52 fentanyl overdoses that destroyed the lives of 12 families. Anyone dealing fentanyl knows a lot of people are going to die from what they are distributing, except that they just don’t care. It’s time we give law enforcement the tools they need to put these dealers in prison.”

Bates and Huff introduced SB 1323 in February to add fentanyl to the list of drugs such as heroin and cocaine that are subject to criminal penalty enhancements by weight. The amount of additional time in state prison would depend on the weight. For example, if the amount of fentanyl being trafficked exceeds one kilogram, the person shall receive an additional term of three years; four kilograms or more – five years; and 10 kilograms or more – 10 years.

Weeks after SB 1323 was introduced, several fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths occurred mostly in the Sacramento area, bringing more attention to this deadly drug.

Fentanyl is a prescribed synthetic opioid used to treat people with severe chronic pain, when other pain medicines no longer work, and as an anesthetic in surgery. When abused, fentanyl affects the brain and nervous system by producing a euphoric high 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine or heroin. A fentanyl overdose can cause blood pressure to plummet, diminish breathing and induce deep sleep coma, which can lead to death. The drug is inexpensive to produce, making it a go-to heroin substitute for drug cartels.

Orange County Crime Lab statistics show fentanyl use has dramatically increased between 2014 and 2015. The statistics show a 100 percent increase between 2014 (10 cases) and October 2015 (20 cases) in those who drive under the drug’s influence. The lab also found that fentanyl possession increased from just three cases in 2014 to 12 as of November 2015, a 400 percent increase. New Jersey has seen a huge spike in fentanyl-related deaths, with 80 reported in the first six months of 2014. In a 15-month period, Pennsylvania reported approximately 200 fentanyl-related deaths.

Alarmed by these statistics, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department reached out to local legislators asking them to carry legislation to combat fentanyl distribution. In consultation with stakeholders and legislative staff, Bates and Huff crafted the bill to ensure that it does not conflict with the voter-approved Proposition 47 of 2014.

Proposition 47 reduces the classification of most "nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes" from a felony to a misdemeanor. SB 1323 only targets those illegally distributing fentanyl, not those who illegally possess or use it.

SB 1323 is supported by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association, Crime Victims United of California, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Media organizations such as CNN, CBS Los Angeles, Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register and The San Diego Union-Tribune have highlighted the dangers associated with fentanyl this year.