Senate Public Safety Committee Blocks Bill to Address Fentanyl Drug Trafficking

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Public Safety Committee today refused to pass Senate Bill 1103 by Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) that would enhance criminal penalties for illegal distributors of fentanyl, which has been linked to numerous deaths in California in recent years.

“Today’s decision is a disappointing setback for law enforcement efforts to tackle the fentanyl epidemic,” said Senator Bates. Given its deadly potency, state law should treat fentanyl trafficking the same as heroin and cocaine trafficking. My bill would have given law enforcement an important tool to break up the upper chain-of-command of illegal fentanyl networks. Existing law is simply not enough to deter fentanyl traffickers from continuing their lethal business.”

Senator Bates partnered with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to introduce SB 1103, which would have added fentanyl to a category of dangerous drugs, such as heroin, that are subject to penalty enhancements based on the weight an individual possesses for sale or distribution. The bill would only take effect when someone is caught with fentanyl weighing a kilogram or more. A kilogram of fentanyl has a street value of anywhere from $100,000 to several million.

Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade heroin and is often mixed into heroin and other drugs without the knowledge of users. Fentanyl is also cheaper to make and easier to transport than heroin, making it the emerging go-to drug for cartels. Because of fentanyl’s potency, overdoses are more likely to be fatal as it can shut down the lungs in as little as two minutes. Fentanyl can also be deadly if it becomes airborne or makes contact with human skin, putting first responders and other innocent bystanders at risk.

Just last week in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa Police raided a fentanyl pill lab. Currently, fentanyl traffickers would only face up to four years in state prison. With SB 1103, traffickers could face up to 11 years in prison. SB 1103 would not affect prison sentences for end-users, or those using medical fentanyl for legitimate purposes.

SB 1103 was supported by San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore, the California District Attorneys Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

In 2016, Senator Bates authored a similar bill, SB 1323. The bill died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Senator Bates is also authoring SB 1109 this year in partnership with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. SB 1109 emphasizes education to reduce opioid overdoses and addiction.