The bill was altered by Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers to make possession of 28 grams of fentanyl, rather than 4 grams, the threshold for low-level trafficking charges.
After a hearing in an Assembly committee, a bill to increase fentanyl punishments in Nevada failed to pass, and the Democratic leadership in Nevada drastically changed its intentions to move fentanyl legislation to the governor’s desk.
The new version of the bill raises the threshold for low-level trafficking penalties for fentanyl from 4 to 28 grams. The Assembly Judiciary Committee made the change on Friday night, just hours before the deadline for most bills to move out of their second committee.
For months, advocates for harm reduction and several Democrats have voiced concerns that criminalizing possession of less than 4 grams of a substance would be a return to failed “war on drugs” measures. Democratic leadership pushed bills with these provisions, but many regular Assembly members had doubts and raised concerns during hearings and behind-the-scenes discussions.
As a result of a 2019 criminal justice reform bill that Republican Governor Joe Lombardo threatened to roll back during his campaign, the minimum possession amount for a fentanyl trafficking charge in Nevada has increased to 100 grams.
Lombardo proposes charging everyone with possession of fentanyl, no matter how little the amount, with a category B felony. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and other top Democrats have made it clear they have no intention of even considering his historic public safety legislation. Cannizzaro was the sponsor of the Democratic bill that was ultimately defeated.
In two legislative hearings, Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford presented the revised fentanyl bill and fielded questions from lawmakers. The changes were described as a “compromise between the many groups with an interest in this issue” by Ford’s office in a tweet sent after the hearings concluded.
Ford has advocated for legislation that would shield those who call 911 to report an overdose from any legal consequences. If funds are available, the proposal would also establish medication-assisted treatment programs for those with substance use disorders in correctional facilities.
Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, among others, frequently have fentanyl added to their supplies. However, there are those who actively seek it out. Some people are taking it without realizing it.
To put it in perspective, a paper clip-sized amount (approximately 1 gram) of fentanyl might contain 500 deadly doses.
States that have reduced drug possession punishments in recent years are shifting towards imposing longer prison sentences for possessing lesser amounts of drugs. More severe penalties for possession of smaller amounts of fentanyl have been discussed or enacted in a number of state legislatures, including Oregon, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Alabama.
The law also establishes a committee to look at how much it would cost to upgrade crime labs in the state so that they could screen for the presence of fentanyl in drug combinations.
Concerns have been raised by those who work to reduce harm and certain state legislators because the state’s labs only check for the presence of fentanyl rather than its concentration in a given drug cocktail.
The prosecution said in court that the state’s testing techniques might expose defendants to harsher fentanyl trafficking charges even if they were unaware the medicines they were selling contained the synthetic opioid.