Drug Policy Alliance's 911 overdose bill clears Senate

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In November, Art Way, manager of the Drug Policy Alliance's Colorado branch, previewed a Good Samaritan bill intended to prevent those who call 911 when a friend is overdosing from being arrested for doing so. Despite law-enforcement opposition, the bill passed the Senate yesterday -- but big obstacles lie ahead.

Simply getting the bill, known as SB-20, out of the Senate judiciary committee earlier this month was touch and go, Way concedes. Advocating on behalf of the measure were the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a number of other organizations, as well as "a few people who had personal stories to tell," he says. "We had family members, sons as well as friends who overdosed -- some who survived, and some who didn't. It was a very emotional yet on-point discussion of the recent epidemic of overdoses primarily caused by opiates, and it really brought home how widespread the issue is."

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Art Way.
Not that everyone was convinced. As Way recalls, "law enforcement was there in opposition," and in force. "At the time of the hearing, I only expected the Colorado District Attorneys' Council, but it appears they rallied the wagons. The state sheriffs association was there as well, and the attorney general's office sent someone to testify against the bill. And the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police was there, although no one from there testified.

"It was really disturbing," Way continues. "Really all I heard from the testimony was, 'We are not going to be able to put felony charges on people in cases of overdose when they have a small amount of drugs in their possession,' or 'We want to be able to charge them with distribution regarding that small amount.'"

The use of the term "distribution" in this context is misleading, Way believes, because "in Colorado, sharing drugs is considered distribution. And law enforcement said, 'We still want to charge people with a felony-three case of distribution for sharing even in the event of an overdose.'"

Nonetheless, the bill passed out of the judiciary committee on a strict party-line vote: four Democrats in favor, three Republicans opposed. And the margin of victory when it reached the full Senate yesterday was even wider: 25-10, which, as Way points out, means some Republicans voted in favor of the measure.

Still, Way knows the Republican-controlled state House may present more challenges, and he plans to discuss with sponsoring senators Irene Aguilar and Pat Steadman (featured in our post about the failed medical marijuana credit union bill), as well as House sponsor Ken Summers, the question of whether amendments might be necessary to facilitate passage. At this point, no firm date for House action has been set, but Way wants to be ready.

"There's a lot of lip service about reducing the human cost and the financial cost of criminalizing non-violent drug users," he says, "and we have a proposal that speaks to that -- that's primarily a public-health proposal, and that saves lives."

Here's the current version of the bill.

Colorado Senate Bill 12-020

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Rehab
Rehab

"We want to be able to charge them with distribution regarding that small amount." - This causes the problem to most captured users/pushers. Police can't charge them because theres a certain law that excuses their small possesion. For me, illegal drugs, no matter the quantity is harmful. Great article. Hoping for the Bill to pass soon. Thanks for sharing!

Rehab
Rehab

I don't necessarilly agree with this. What is the person who called is the reason for the victims overdose of drugs? I think it depends on the situation. Hopefully, this can bring positive results if approved. Great article. Thanks for sharing!

ShantiK
ShantiK

Anything that would prevent the city from being able to make $ and with the rate of drug abuse climbing, of course they are going to object to such a bill.  They are making it clear that their policies and priortities are focused on arrests and charges over saving lives and rehabilitation.  The ability to pin someone with a drug felony almost certainly guarantees you a correctional cilent for life.  Instead of setting up a drug court where addicts can redeem themselves through drug treatment and community service, while avoiding a charge that prevents them from obtaining housing, school loans and employment, they are shuffled through the jail/prison/probation/parole system at quadruple the costs to taxpayers and benefiting those who are employed to oversee the process. 

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Strong post, ShantiK -- one we're going to make an upcoming Comment of the Day. Congrats, and thanks for weighing in.

ShantiK
ShantiK

Awesome, thank you! :)

CO_Buddyboy
CO_Buddyboy

This is a perfect example of why you don't keep granting power to law enforcement. They don't care about what happens to people, they just want to make their quotas. The fact that they "showed up in force" to oppose this humanitarian measure lets you know where they stand. We need to fight the idea that law enforcement needs any more resources than they have already been given. READ the "regulate marijuana like alcohol" bill - it turns CO into a police officer's wet dream... Legalize2012.com 

GetReal
GetReal

Given this country's love for drugs, this is really as good idea and will probably save lives.  Until, we stop starting our day at Starbucks, ending it at Happy Hour, and consuming pharmaceuticals in between, we are all at risk. 

Corey Donahue
Corey Donahue

It's a good first step. This bill want's to bring Colorado in to the present, if the present was 1985, and the police don't want it because they will not be able to justify their arrests and thus jobs.   But the police are the people who make the most from the drug war on us, so it's no surprise they want to keep the gravy flowing.  Hell, they have their criminal hands in every drug bill that passes, Hb-1284, Hb-1043, Sb-109, Hb-1056. Law enforcement has created a marijuana fusion centers in the form of the MMED, that tracks patients. They oppose every common sense bill like this one.  Law enforcement routinely violate our natural rights under the guise of the "war on drugs," and anything we do to get out from under the boot of these terrorists is opposed because it will be harder for them to subjugate us.  And to resist these terrorists is a crime not a duty.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Corey, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

So the DPA is good for something after all!

P.S.  Resisting the enemy combatants against the Constitution is a duty not a crime (not the reverse).

GetReal
GetReal

 Well said, that too! :)

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