Dems make last minute changes to soften criminal penalties in bill intended to save thousands from drug deaths

1 week ago 6

Democrats in Nevada have made last minute changes to a bill intended to crack down on the possession of fentanyl by significantly softening the legislation's threshold of how much someone could possess that would be considered low-level trafficking.

The amended bill, SB35, was presented to the state legislature by Nevada's progressive Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford last week, just hours before the deadline for it to pass out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. 

According to Ford, the amendment came as a "compromise between the many groups with an interest in this issue," and included the drop of the low-level trafficking charge for fentanyl possession from 4 grams to 28 grams.

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Democratic Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford

Then-Democratic Nevada Senate Majority Leader and candidate for Nevada attorney general Aaron D. Ford (D-Las Vegas) speaks during a get-out-the-vote rally featuring former U.S. President Barack Obama at the Cox Pavilion as he campaigns for Nevada Democratic candidates on October 22, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, 28 grams of fentanyl is enough to kill up to 14,000 people, while 4 grams is enough to kill up to 2,000 people.

A source familiar with the debate over the bill told Fox News Digital that the back and forth between Democrats over the threshold for trafficking charges included concerns over how the state would prosecute fentanyl being mixed with other substances. 

The source added that there was also concern a stricter threshold would be akin to "war on drugs" policies that cracked down on low-level users as harshly as drug traffickers.

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Rainbow fentanyl pills

Rainbow fentanyl pills seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency. (DEA)

The push for the new crime bill comes amid a worsening fentanyl crisis and just a few years after Nevada Democrats, with Ford's support, passed a 2019 bill that weakened penalties for larger amounts of drug possession, including fentanyl. 

The 2019 bill, AB236, made it possible for a person in possession of fentanyl to only be charged with a misdemeanor unless the amount possessed was at least 100 grams, an amount the DEA says could kill between 300,000 and 500,000 people. Prior to this bill's passage, the previous low-level trafficking threshold was set at 4 grams, the amount the new bill would have reverted to until Democrats' last minute changes.

Nevada capitol in Carson

CARSON, NEVADA, UNITED STATES - 2021/02/01: Exterior view of the state assembly building. Scenes around the Capitol on the 1st day of the 81st legislative session. (Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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In contrast to Democrats' push for the softened drug trafficking threshold, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo has called for any possession of fentanyl at all to be classified as a felony offense.

Brandon Gillespie is an associate editor at Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @brandon_cg.

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