Lawmakers in both chambers say they’re committed to cracking down on big-time dealers who offer the incredibly potent and increasingly common drug. But the House and Senate disagree over whether S.22 would also ensnare low-level users, who both sides agree should receive treatment, not jail time.
Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington) serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which turned Sears’ bill into one that merely calls for a study. That easily passed the House. “We were concerned about creating new crimes, particularly those that we felt had the strong potential to punish people who are really struggling with addiction,” Colburn said.
“The first penalty is for four milligrams, which is basically like the residue of a tiny, tiny bag of heroin,” she continued. “That seemed pretty problematic.”
Sears, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested the House could have altered the bill without completely neutralizing it.
The senator, known for finding creative vessels for passing bills into law, isn’t about to be hamstrung. In an interview Tuesday, Sears explained that his committee is reviewing a House bill addressing bail reform that’s expected to reach the Senate floor soon. He said he’s planning to tack on portions of his fentanyl bill as an amendment to that piece of legislation.
Whatever happens, expect a lively debate when House and Senate members come together to work out their differences in a conference committee.
The challenge, according to Colburn: “How do we use our laws as an effective deterrent without criminalizing addiction?”