Sadly, there are people who squander their lives addicted to illegal drugs. Some started out dabbling in drugs and got lost. Others began using narcotics to control pain and got hooked. Their backstories are wide ranging, and they represent every race, ethnicity and social status.
One thing most of them have in common, though, is that few of them are behind bars in Colorado. Few ever have been. At least, if they haven’t otherwise been involved in crime.
That’s right; illegal drug use alone — absent other criminal activity like selling drugs — rarely has resulted in prison time. Those who have been arrested only for possession over the years typically have been diverted by the courts to rehabilitation programs. Or, they have gotten probation. Or, they have been released and their charges dropped.
It’s an important point to keep in mind amid Colorado’s current battle with the deadly opioid fentanyl. A predominant myth among advocates of so-called “justice reform” in the legislature is that they must water down the criminal code so mere addicts — whose drug use is viewed as “victimless” — don’t go to jail.
That’s nonsense, and career cops will tell you as much. So will prosecutors — at least, those who are focused on the crime fight rather than on imposing a political agenda.
Which is why it made no sense for the General Assembly’s ruling Democrats to decriminalize fentanyl along with a host of other hard drugs three years ago. The result was to limit police to issuing a ticket to someone in possession of up to four grams of fentanyl — enough to kill up to 2,000 people. Ask almost any cop: The legislation is partly responsible for the rapid spread of the drug on our streets amid Colorado’s epidemic of fentanyl-overdose deaths.
And yet, while fentanyl continues to claim Colorado lives, especially among our youth, the legislature continues to dally over the urgent need to repair the damage it has done. Despite calls for action even from our Democratic governor, their party’s standard bearer, the legislative majority still is waffling on the issue as it claims to be mulling a solution.
The right response is elusive, they whine, because the problem is complex and poses a dilemma. Regrettably, even some of their ilk in the justice system spout such rhetoric.
“We’re seeing a battle between people saying, ‘Don’t incarcerate drug addicts,’ which I agree with, and I don’t think we should go back to those days,” Boulder County’s Democratic District Attorney Michael Dougherty told The Gazette in a report this week. “And then we have people saying, ‘People are dying and we need stiffer penalties.’ And I agree with that. I think both things are true.”
Oh, please. We in fact don’t incarcerate addicts — and Dougherty should know that. Certainly, criminals who also happen to be addicts go to prison — not enough of them, frankly — but they typically have lengthy rap sheets. Not only do they include dealers but also those who have committed thefts, assaults and even homicides.
Dougherty instead should be calling on his fellow Democrats in the legislature to repeal the 2019 bill, pure and simple. It wouldn’t send mere addicts to jail, but it would enable police to arrest someone with enough fentanyl in a backpack to kill everyone on a city block. And that is an essential first step in curbing the lethal narcotic. What’s so complicated about that?
Denver Gazette editorial board
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