Illinois Republicans try to turn tables on Democrats with new law against fentanyl dealers

Sponsors said the bill was about ensuring offenders get medical treatment for drug addiction rather than a jail cell.

Updated: September 23, 2022 - 6:23am

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Republican lawmakers who say they are fed up with Democratic efforts to lessen the penalties for drug dealers in Illinois have introduced new legislation.

Last April, the House narrowly passed a measure that lowered the criminal penalties for what they call low-level possession of drugs like fentanyl and heroin. Misdemeanors under the bill include possession of less than five grams of cocaine, less than five pills of most scheduled III substances such as Xanax and Valium, and less than 40 pills of oxycodone and similar painkillers.

Sponsors said the bill was about ensuring offenders get medical treatment for drug addiction rather than a jail cell. The measure has not advanced in the Illinois Senate.

Requests for comment from two of the bill's House sponsors, state Rep. Anna Stava-Murray, D-Downers Grove, and state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, were not answered.

State Rep. Chris Bos, R-Lake Zurich, said it doesn’t take much fentanyl to do harm.

“Five milligrams of fentanyl is lethal and deadly. We can’t have that be just a simple misdemeanor,” Bos said during a news conference.

Republicans have introduced legislation designed to allow state attorneys to prosecute fentanyl dealers.

“If you are going out of your way to put fentanyl into other drugs, putting it into vitamins, putting it in something that looks like candy, putting into something that is rainbow colored, you clearly have an intent to distribute, to target, to harm,” said state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst.

The measure also provides that, “in addition to any other penalties imposed for the manufacture or delivery, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, not less than 6 years and not more than 30 years shall be imposed for any amount of carfentanil in excess of 150 milligrams that is stored or transmitted as a powder, blotter paper, tablet, patch, or spray if the product fails to include a warning label and an accompanying rescue level of naloxone.”

Mazzochi says the SAFE-T Act will actually do more harm than good in getting people into drug treatment programs because in January, those offenders will be released from jail before they can enter a program.

GOP lawmakers hope to take up the measure during the fall veto session which begins the week after the Nov. 8 election.

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