Mon March 26, 2012

Proposed Changes in Drug User Penalties Spark Debate

A debate is brewing at the State Capitol around a proposed change in drug user penalties. Colorado’s Meth Task Force announced today opposition to a measure that would make possession of small amounts of illegal drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Senate Bill 163 is focused on users who have up to four grams of drugs like cocaine, and up to two grams of methamphetamine. Sen. Pat Steadman, one of the bill’s sponsors, says the change would translate into fewer incarcerations, and the money saved could be funneled into treatment options.

But members of the Colorado Meth Task Force disagree. The group, which is chaired by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, says removing the felony charge would take away so-called “deferred judgment” options which the Task Force believes to be a key motivator in promoting treatment.

“There’s an incentive for offenders to go through treatment and comply with supervision,” says  Mike Saccone, a spokesperson for the Colorado Attorney General. “That incentive would not be there if individuals had a misdemeanor charge.”

Senate Bill 163 was introduced last week and has bi-partisan support, in addition to backing from the Independence Institute, the Colorado Criminal Defense Foundation and the Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

The legislation will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.