Colorado passes harsher penalties for fentanyl possession and distribution


Boram Kim


House Bill 1326 passed Third Reading in the Colorado Senate on Friday by a final vote of 24-8. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for final vote on Senate amendments before making its way to the governor’s desk. 


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The bill would make possession of fentanyl and related compounds a felony. It would also require those who are convicted of fentanyl possession who are identified to have substance use disorder to be treated in a residential treatment facility in order to get probation. Furthermore, a court would be required to order a fentanyl education class developed by the office of behavioral health for these individuals.

Colorado Senator Brittany Pettersen (D – Lakewood), one of the bill’s prime sponsors whose mother developed a heroin and fentanyl addiction from prescription medication after hurting her back, spoke to the pain that families of those struggling with addiction endure on the Senate floor prior to the vote.

“My mom has been living in recovery now for almost five years,” said Pettersen through tears. “And on my way to be with you all today and talk about this bill I got to talk to my mom. We got to make Mother’s Day plans. She gets to be involved in my son’s life. And I finally have a mom, so I think often about how lucky I am and how many families don’t have that same opportunity.

“What’s happening in Colorado is happening across the US. It is the third wave of an opioid epidemic. We currently have 450 people on waitlists just to get the inpatient care that they desperately seek. Most of those people are addicted to fentanyl because it has completely infected all of our supply chains. However hard we have worked every year, how much I have fought for every dollar for care, we are still second in the nation for lack of access. That’s devastating.”

The bill would authorize low-level felony convictions for anyone in possession of up to one gram of fentanyl punishable up to two years in prison. The bill would outline the following law enforcement for fentanyl possession:

  • 1-4 grams, Level 3 felony (2-6 year sentence)
  • 4-50 grams, Level 2 felony (4-16 year sentence)
  • 50+ grams, Level 1 felony (up to 32 years in prison)

The bill would also establish a $6 million harm reduction grant program that incentivizes treatment and recovery in the sentencing process.

Colorado witnessed more than 800 fentanyl related deaths in 2021, marking the second-fastest growing rate in fentanyl deaths in the country.

According to a report on fentanyl’s economic toll on Colorado, the total lifetime cost of the 1,104 opioid related deaths in 2021 reached more than $15.2 billion. Since 2017, the share of opioid related deaths attributed to fentanyl grew from 19% to 73%, amounting to an $11.1 billion total lifetime cost in 2021.

According to Medical Examiner data, Denver county has seen a month-on-month decline in fentanyl deaths in 2022. So far in the first four months this year, there have been 42 deaths related to fentanyl overdose compared to the 58 deaths reported over the same period last year.

Supporters of the bill support criminalizing possession of any amount of the substance while opponents say the bill does not put enough emphasis on addiction recovery and treatment.

Senate Republicans worked with the House to add amendments that emphasized harm reduction measures including substance abuse assessments for entry into custody at medication-assisted treatment facilities.


“A lot of amendments that we put on yesterday. Let’s not forget … that this bill is 85%, maybe even more [than that], about harm reduction,” said Senator John Cooke (R – Greeley), also ahead of the vote. It’s not all about enforcement. As a matter of fact, it’s [a] very small part about enforcement. And we put on many amendments yesterday on the harm reduction that I think made the bill better.”