Locally sponsored bill looks to crack down on deadly drug

 

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

MONTGOMERY – A locally sponsored bill being considered by the Alabama Legislature this session would provide for harsher punishments for crimes involving a deadly substance local law enforcement officers are encountering on a frequent basis, and would lower the threshold necessary for a person to be charged with trafficking the substance.

House Bill 84, which is sponsored by Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, and Senate Bill 39, which is sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was filed for the second straight year before the 2018 session. As of Jan. 22, the bills were still in committee, pending a vote before the full Legislature.

“I feel good about it passing this year. We are going to push it hard,” Ward said during a Jan. 19 interview.

The bill was constructed a few years ago after area law enforcement agencies met with the Shelby County legislative delegation to provide their input on the growing fentanyl problem in the county and state.

“Fentanyl is used in anesthesia, but it’s being illegally trafficked. The people who are distributing this illegally are feeding on the people who have addictions,” Ward said. “You’ve seen a huge uptick in heroin overdoses because it’s being mixed with fentanyl. When that happens, it makes the heroin more powerful, but also a lot more deadly.”

Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force Commander Lt. Clay Hammac said the bill will allow officers to bring heavier charges against those who are distributing fentanyl.

“When we met with the delegation, we asked for the bill to identify fentanyl by name in the trafficking statute,” Hammac said. “It takes less than 2 milligrams of fentanyl to be fatal. Under the current trafficking statute, it would require a significant amount of fentanyl to hit the trafficking weight.”

If the bill passes, a person found to be in illegal possession of between a half-gram and 1 gram of fentanyl could be charged with a Class B felony count of distributing a controlled substance, which could result in a 10-year prison sentence.

A person found to be in illegal possession of more than 1 gram or 50 or more individual packages of fentanyl could be charged with drug trafficking if the bill passes.

Possession of between 1 and 2 grams could result in a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years and a $50,000 fine, possession of between 2 and 4 grams could result in a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and a $100,000 fine, possession of between 4 and 8 grams could result in a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25 years and a $500,000 fine and possession of more than 8 grams could result in a mandatory minimum prison sentence of life without parole.

Hammac said he is hopeful the bill passes this year, as it will give the Task Force a stronger weapon in its fight against the substance.

“There is so much involved with responding to the presence of fentanyl,” Hammac said. “We’re talking about level-A hazmat gear, a decontamination team and two fire departments to deal with a sandwich bag of it.”