'People Are Dying': Law Enforcement Pins Colorado Overdose Spike to Dem-Passed Law

2019 law made possession of less than four grams of hard drugs a misdemeanor

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February 22, 2022

On Sunday, five people died of fentanyl overdoses in a suburban Denver apartment, leaving a four-month-old baby parentless as a result. Now, local enforcement officials are blaming a Democrat-passed bill that weakened the criminal punishment for fentanyl possession.

Police found five adults dead in a Commerce City, Colo., apartment Sunday afternoon, with narcotics discovered at the scene later testing positive for fentanyl. The tragic event has revived calls from local prosecutors and police to reverse a 2019 law that made the possession of four grams or less of many hard drugs—including fentanyl—a misdemeanor instead of a felony. 

That law passed shortly after Colorado Democrats expanded their majority in the state House and captured control of the state Senate. At the time, Colorado prosecutors called on lawmakers to exempt fentanyl from the penalty reduction, noting that four grams of fentanyl is the equivalent of 13,000 deadly doses. But the bill's sponsors refused, and opioid overdose deaths in the state went on to spike by 54 percent in 2020. 

"There was a time when fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin were demonized. Then we changed the law to say anything under four grams is a misdemeanor," Denver police chief Paul Pazen told the Gazette. "And again, since then, we have seen a rise in overdose deaths. … [The law] was well-intended, but people are dying."

Pazen and other state law enforcement officials are far from the only leaders sounding the alarm on the need to strengthen fentanyl possession penalties. Following Sunday's overdose ordeal, former Green Beret Tyler Allcorn—who is running to represent Colorado's Eighth Congressional District—highlighted the issue in a press release that slammed Democratic opponent Yadira Caraveo. As a state lawmaker, Caraveo repeatedly voted to reduce penalties for fentanyl possession, a decision that Allcorn says "contributed to the overdose deaths of thousands of our neighbors."

"I'm a former Army Special Forces Green Beret, and the way that scene in Commerce City was described, it's something you would expect to see in a war zone—not in the suburbs of Denver," Allcorn told the Washington Free Beacon. "It's time for these Democrats to own up to what they've done and change the laws back to the way they were. Yadira Caraveo needs to break her silence on this issue."

Caraveo did not return a request for comment. 

The Democrat and her colleagues moved to weaken fentanyl possession penalties to keep addicts out of jail, with state legislator Leslie Herod—who sponsored the law—arguing that "we don't need to just incarcerate ourselves out of this mess." While Herod claimed the law would allow prosecutors to target dealers without putting users in prison, Pazen said dealers are now purposefully carrying slightly less than four grams to avoid felony charges, allowing them to stay on the streets.

Fentanyl seizures at the southern border have skyrocketed in recent months as cartels look to take advantage of the ongoing border crisis. Under President Joe Biden, law enforcement officials encountered more than two million migrants in the 2021 fiscal year, and subsequent overcrowding in migrant processing facilities has pulled Border Patrol agents away from the front lines. According to Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), that dynamic has allowed cartels to "move large quantities of illicit narcotics, like fentanyl, into the United States."