DENVER — Drug dealers could spend decades behind bars under a proposal Colorado lawmakers are considering.
Senate Bill 23-109 would allow prosecutors to charge people with a level 1 drug felony if a drug they supply or distribute causes someone to die from an overdose.
If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 32 years in prison.
State Senator Kyle Mullica, D-District 24, which is in Adams County, is one of the bill’s chief sponsors.
“People are tired of seeing people die,” said Mullica. “They're tired of losing brothers and sisters, aunts, and uncles, sons and daughters, and friends.”
The proposal, which Mullica is introducing with State Senator Byron Pelton, R-District 1, mirrors a law legislators passed last year, which allows prosecutors to charge drug dealers for deadly fentanyl overdoses.
Mullica and Pelton’s proposal expands on that law by allowing prosecutors to also charge people who distribute Schedule 1 and 2 drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and meth.
“Our goal is to really try to make sure that if someone deals these drugs and kills someone in our community, that there is a significant consequence so that that family has justice,” said Mullica.
Laws that criminally punish drug dealers are controversial, and critics say they don’t work.
“Bills like SB23-109 won’t stop drug use and won’t save lives,” the ACLU of Colorado said in a tweet. “It’s time we reject them – and focus instead on real, evidence-based solutions to the overdose crisis.”
Critics have called similar proposals “cruel” and “ineffective.”
They say people who supply and distribute drugs are often addicted themselves and are being unfairly unpunished.
“I don't think it's cruel,” said Mullica. “People in our community dying, that's cruel. And it's cruel to them and it's cruel to their families and their loved ones and they're their friends. And that's what we're trying to stop.”
Another criticism of bills like this is that people, often other drug users, who witness an overdose will be too afraid to call 911 out of fear of being charged.
Mullica says language will likely be added to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“We're working to make sure that there are not unintended consequences from this,” said Mullica. “But we do know hearing from our community that they want to see something done. They're tired of seeing people die in our community.”
The senate judiciary committee will hold a hearing on the bill Monday at 1:30 p.m., where lawmakers will hear testimony from people on both sides of this issue.