Assembly Committee Blocks Bill to Address Fentanyl Drug Trafficking

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Assembly Appropriations Committee today refused to pass 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.

“It’s disappointing that the Assembly Appropriations Committee did not forward the bill to the entire Assembly for a vote,” said Bates. “Unfortunately, the governor’s focus on decreasing the state’s prison population has made it difficult to pass any legislation that would address weaknesses in current criminal law. Given fentanyl's deadly potency, the law should treat fentanyl trafficking the same as heroin and cocaine. Today’s decision is a sad setback for law enforcement efforts to go after big-time fentanyl dealers.”

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 have depended on the weight. For example, if the amount of fentanyl being trafficked exceeded one kilogram, the person shall have received 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 targeted those illegally distributing fentanyl, not those who illegally possess or use it.

SB 1323 was 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.