By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee held a bill in committee Thursday that would have set a standard for trafficking fentanyl and introduced a mandatory minimum prison sentence.
Rep. Chris Allgood, R-Caldwell, pitched HB 67, saying it was necessary for the state’s safety.
Idaho already has mandatory minimum sentences on the books for trafficking drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.
Rep. David Cannon, R-Blackfoot, made the motion to hold the bill committee, subject to call of the chair. That motion passed in a 12-6 vote.
“It occurs to me that we are all on the same team, we all want the same thing,” Cannon said. “That is to deal with the scourge that is fentanyl and to do so effectively, safely and in a way that preserves due process and freedom.”
Several law enforcement officers testified, telling legislators stories of how quickly the number of fentanyl overdose deaths had increased in their communities.
Defense attorneys and former addicts questioned whether calling 7 grams of a drug “trafficking” is fair when they were only in possession of the substance.
In his closing, Allgood addressed the idea that users would possess that much of the drug.
“Stumbling onto somebody with delivery-weight of it is extremely uncommon,” said Allgood, a former police officer.
The bill would have introduced a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years for those possessing between 7 and 14 grams of fentanyl. That means judges would not have discretion to grant someone a lesser sentence.
The bill also stated a “mixture of” fentanyl weighing at least 7 grams would qualify. Multiple legislators questioned whether the “mixture of” fentanyl was an accurate portrayal of possessing the drug.
The bill also increased the amount of heroin a person must possess to qualify as a trafficking charge to 7 grams, up from the current 2 grams.
Cannon questioned Meridian Police Chief Tracy Basterrechea about whether the weight alone of 7 grams was worthwhile.
Cannon offered an example in committee, saying he weighed his migraine medication as an experiment, and 10 pills weighed 7 grams.
Basterrechea maintained 7 grams was a weight worthy of a trafficking charge and he supported the bill.
Additionally, should the bill have passed, possessing 14 to 28 grams of fentanyl would have a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and 28 grams or more would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Possessing less than 7 grams of an illicit drug is still illegal, but under this bill, it wouldn’t count as trafficking and wouldn’t carry the mandatory minimum prison sentence.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, expressed concern about the trafficking laws leaving no discretion for sentencing, while other crimes, such as manufacturing or delivery of a controlled substance, do leave discretion.
“We’re talking about fentanyl here,” said Rep. Kenny Wroten, R-Nampa, who voted against the motion. “The mandatory minimums are already on the books and have been since 1992. We’re just adding (fentanyl) because we’ve seen what a scourge it is.”
The bill could come back if the chairman of the committee scheduled it, but it will not move to the House floor.