Brian Besser, DEA special agent in charge for Colorado, speaks during a press conference about the fentanyl crisis Thursday in Colorado Springs.

As you read this, your elected lawmakers at the State Capitol are negotiating how many Colorado lives are worth saving from the deadly scourge of fentanyl that has waylaid our state.

That’s right, politicians are essentially haggling over an acceptable number of deaths from the illicit drug. The only moral conclusion for most Coloradans is, of course, zero. But it’s far from clear whether a majority of the General Assembly will see it that way.

Incredibly, some members are digging in their heels against a change in the law that could curb the death spiral — making possession of any amount of fentanyl a felony. A no-brainer, really.

The mass-produced, synthetic opioid — smuggled into the U.S. from China via Mexico — is so lethal a mere 4 grams could kill 2,000 people.

And yet, possession of that amount or less is only a misdemeanor — a cop only can write a ticket — because the Legislature decriminalized it in 2019. It was part of ruling Democrats’ lurch to the far left in pursuit of “justice reform.”

The result has been nothing less than tragic. Mounting data shows the 2019 legislation likely has played a direct role in fueling Colorado’s epidemic of fentanyl-overdose deaths.

A public outcry has led to calls for the Legislature to walk back its misbegotten move from three years ago and make possession of any amount of fentanyl a felony again. That way, police can make arrests and get more of the drug off our streets — and especially out of the hands of young people, who have been hit hardest — to blunt its devastating impact.

So far, majority Democrats and some go-along Republicans in the Legislature have introduced a milquetoast measure that does little to corral the crisis. It tinkers around the edges but still allows possession of up to 4 grams of fentanyl without the threat of felony charges.

Lawmakers are feeling the heat, though — it’s an election year — and reportedly are now offering to tighten their bill a bit. The latest word out of the Capitol’s backrooms is that House Bill 1326’s sponsors — House Speaker Alec Garnett, Reps. Leslie Herod, Mike Lynch and Shane Sandridge, and Sens. Brittany Pettersen, Kevin Priola and John Cooke — might agree to make possession of over one gram a felony.

Which means an amount that can kill “only” 500 people still would be a misdemeanor.

Let’s be clear: No amount of fentanyl is safe. Possession of any amount must be a felony.

As of the end of 2021, our state had suffered 1,578 fentanyl-related deaths since 2015. That's a staggering 1,008% increase in a six-year time span, with Colorado experiencing among the 10 highest overdose rates of increase nationwide.

Since 2019 — when fentanyl possession was decriminalized — the increase in fentanyl deaths in our state has outstripped that of every other state but Alaska. It has surged 382% in that short time.

And now, there is riveting data linking Colorado’s fentanyl deaths even more directly to the 2019 legislation. Preliminary research findings released this week by statistician Stephen Cranney at the Catholic University of America attribute about 650 Colorado fentanyl deaths to the 2019 law. The analysis uses econometric analysis to compare the state’s death rate not only to deaths before the change in state law but also to the fentanyl toll in other states since Colorado decriminalized.

Does that get our lawmakers’ attention?

There can be no wiggle room here. Lives are at stake. We encourage common-sense Democrats and Republicans to reach across the aisle and fix this legislation. They must close this lethal loophole — through which too many lives already have been lost.

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