Legislators Who Supported Criminal Justice Reform Now Sponsoring Tougher Heroin Bills

Heroin hysteria is in full swing this year.


Kentucky Senator John Shickel (Photo: LRC Public Information)

This year, legislation has been introduced in at least 29 states that would increase penalties for heroin and fentanyl-related offenses, or allow for individuals to be held criminally liable or charged with murder/manslaughter when a person they supplied with heroin overdoses and dies.

The most disheartening aspect of this new sweep of proposed legislation is some of the state legislators who filed these bills have, in previous years, been sponsors of major sentencing reform legislation that has been enacted in their states, while others have voted for it.

Many of the criminal justice reforms that have been passed at the state level over the past few years have shortened sentences for those convicted of nonviolent offenses, or have diverted low-level offenders from prison and into rehabilitative treatment or other alternatives to incarceration.

The new bills show how easy it is for legislators who appeared to have accepted the notion that relaxed sentences result in smarter crime policy to fall into old punitive, tough-on-crime habits.

In Kentucky, a bill was filed that would significantly increase penalties for individuals who sell any amount of heroin/fentanyl, an offense that would now be considered trafficking. This week, the bill passed the Senate unanimously. The legislation will undo some of the reforms that were passed in 2011 as a part of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that received support from a partnership between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The Senate bill sponsor, Sen. John Schickel (R-Boone) voted for that comprehensive sentencing reform legislation, as did Kentucky's Senate President, Robert Stivers (R-Manchester).

Speaking on the proposed legislation, Stivers said that this new bill would probably cost "in the tens of millions of dollars" but that "it is worthwhile to send a message—it's time for this to stop at whatever level for whatever drug it may be."

In 2015, Alabama enacted legislation aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, requiring low-level, nonviolent drug and property offenders be diverted from prison into alternative programs. This "Justice Reinvestment" legislation was put forward as a result of a partnership between the legislature and The Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice.

This year, however, the same Alabama legislators that sponsored the comprehensive reform bill are in full freak-out mode when it comes to heroin.

A bill filed this year by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) would create mandatory minimum sentences for "trafficking in fentanyl," which includes possession of a small amount of this drug or any mixture (which could include heroin). Astoundingly, the bill creates a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole for trafficking in just 28 grams.

"Even if it did increase the numbers on incarceration, that's okay, because this is something we need to crack down on," Ward told the Alabama Media Group.

In Idaho, Rep. John Gannon, a Democrat who voted for a criminal justice reform bill that was passed in 2011 as a part of a Justice Reinvestment initiative, sponsored a bill that would charge individuals who sell heroin to someone who dies from overdose with second degree murder—a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence in the state.

Other states are introducing similar bills to allow for murder or manslaughter charges for those who sell or give heroin to someone who later dies from an overdose, while others have steadily increased the number of prosecutions for these individuals, as noted in a post last year.

In Connecticut, a state that has seen its prison population at its lowest point in decades and that has enacted many positive reforms in recent years, three bills have been introduced that would increase penalties for individuals who sell heroin to someone who fatally overdoses. Two of those bills would "hold dealers criminally liable," while the other would allow dealers to be charged with homicide.

In Maryland, the governor put forward a bill that creates a new felony offense for when someone provides or sells heroin, resulting in a fatal overdose. This new offense carries up to 30 years in prison.

Prohibition and increased penalties for heroin related offenses will not solve any heroin crisis, it will only further compound all the problems legislators think it will fix. As similar responses to past drug crises have shown, these tactics only result in more loss of life, more incarceration, more spending on prisons, more wasted taxpayer dollars, and more failure. As long as heroin hysteria exists, we'll continue to see the same kind of wrongheaded policy responses.

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  1. Heroin is highly addictive and kids can get hooked after just one hit. If these laws can save one life then they are well worth it.


    1. That one-hit crap is a superstitious lie. It takes weeks to develop opium addiction to duress stages. This republican shill runs a website for dope casualties to buy into republican 12-step mysticism and advocate coercive violence. For facts turn to “Drugs and the Mind,” by Robert S. De Ropp, M.D. The book was written to counter Phantastica, a German book that sought to conceal the addictive nature of opiates in the 1920s.

      1. I knew this kid who took just HALF an oxy in high school for a ‘sports injury’ and by college he was a hopeless ‘wake and bake’ stoner. Then he became a handsome and successful internet commenter and discovered the 12 Steps and lived happily ever after. He was lucky – he got treatment just in time. This stuff will kill ya for sure.

    2. I have had opiates available as needed, all the way up to methadone for over 30 years … never any problem with addiction, physiological or psychological.

      What I have had recently is having to go through three different doctors in a little over a year because there’s not a GP anywhere in my city now that will prescribe any sort of opiates for any reason at all. The pain clinic requires monthly visits, which I can’t afford, so now I’m finding my life revolves a lot more around pain and doing as little as possible to avoid anything which even *might* trigger a surge. I thought my life was constrained by pain before. Nothing like what it is now.

      But oh … someone might get addicted, so the hell with everyone else.

      1. Are you in a MMJ state? Have you tested CBD and THC dosing?

  2. Kentucky Senator John Shickel

    he kicks skills like shaquille holds the pill

  3. The new bills show how easy it is for legislators who appeared to have accepted the notion that relaxed sentences result in smarter crime policy to fall into old punitive, tough-on-crime habits.

    This just in: Politics is a copycat league.

    1. The state rises, thrives, stagnates, goes into chaos. That’s when it reaches for the hammer.

  4. The LP needs to face political facts about opiates. They are addictive, and as for alcohol, some are more susceptible. Opiates literally transferred to Europe the wealth of China through fraud, coercion and naked military force. The Roosevelt Administration, alarmed, backed Hague antiopium conventions that would have crippled Austrian and German heroin exports after the Chinese prohibitionist revolution of 1911 had no pretext for WWI been found. There are grounds for suspecting that WWII was also an opium war. Anything that brought 4 wars into play, one with atomic weapons, is politically dangerous. But most legislation acts to protect opiate narcotic traffic from competition with genuine recreational substances. Religion and coercion combined to help the yeast and glucose trusts make America “dry” by eliminating mass-produced beer and liquor as competitors. The result greatly increased demand for addictive narcotics, so a medical rather than prohibitionist approach would at least avoid repeating errors.

    1. The LP needs to face political facts about opiates. They are addictive

      There are grounds for suspecting that WWII was also an opium war

      I sometimes can’t tell if you’re a crazy old man, or a time-traveler from the distant future.

        1. Worst Rick and Morty episode ever.

    2. I don’t think anyone seriously argues that heroin is actually good for you. Just that it isn’t your call to decide how I choose to live my life.

      1. The availability of pain medication can damn sure be good for you if you actually need it. What are people supposed to do when they can no longer get a legal prescription for what they need to function?

  5. The opioid hysteria is just the latest round of pantshitting for nannies, politicians, and the media to prance around like jackasses about. It will be replaced by another in due time.

    1. It’s been around a long time. Many of the tariff controversies of the past coincided with hikes in the opium schedule, which was a disproportionate source of revenue. Also, Cornwallis lost and went to help turn India into a dope farm. It would have been bitter irony to have re-enslaved the American colonies by dumping of laudanum. Legalizing all other drugs would go a long way to mitigating the narcotic problem. Leaving opiates legal in the sense that cyanide or arsenic is legal would then stand a chance of working.

      1. Nothing works as well as opiates for severe chronic pain.

    1. Why have a dress code for the job fair? Or, why enforce it? If the soon to be looking for employment snowflakes want to slit their own throats, let them.

  6. No surprise that statists across the nation are getting boners for increased Prohibitionist measures with Trump in office. I agree that rehabilitation & legalization is more effective in lowering drug rates of usage as long as the junkies fund rehab themselves or through voluntary private charity — do not force me to pay for treatments of the self destructive behavior of others.

  7. Separating average Americans’ ideas about heroin from their ideas about marijuana was probably a necessary condition before we were ever going to see legalized recreational marijuana become a reality–and the idea that marijuana was a gateway to heroin and dangerous like heroin used to be a common misconception.

    If the legalization lobby has benefited from the argument that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, subconsciously or otherwise, they’ve also benefited from the argument that marijuana is less dangerous than heroin.

    If A < B and B < C, then A < C. When recreational marijuana becomes legal in Ohio and Pennsylvania, then maybe we can take a little more risk with associating ending the drug war in people's minds with championing the cause of heroin. Until then, when we're talking to our friends, family, and coworkers about public policy, I'm not sure we should put the truth about heroin near the top of our list. I might emphasize free trade or freedom of speech instead.

    1. I would agree that opiates are probably last in line. MJ, MDMA, cocaine, mushrooms, LSD, much easier sells due to lack of addictive qualities although I’m sure cocaine will bring up the crack arguments.

    2. State and perhaps federal focus on heroin and other opiates could also lead to less of a focus on marijuana as a target. If Jeff Sessions becomes focused on the opiate epidemic, immigration enforcement, and covering Trump’s ass there maybe an opening. The “Legalization Lobby” should take advantage of this opening and focus on passing legalization in Michigan either next year if possible or 2020, (Pennsylvania has no state wide initiative process). A retry in Arizona and Ohio would be nice, Idaho and Wyoming also have initiative processes, maybe see what worked in Alaska and see if it can be translated to some of these western conservative states.

      Get legalization passed in Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio and this War on Marijuana will come to an end effectively come to an end. The battle on marijuana will then turn to banking reform, regulations and taxes. After that supporters of reform can then go after the War on Drugs as a whole more effectively.

      1. When I was referring to Ohio and Pennsylvania, I really meant swing states–average people, middle of the country. When legal marijuana comes to the those swing states, we’ll know we’ve really won the hearts and minds of the American people.

        Winning in California, Oregon, Washington State, Nevada, Massachusetts, and the Rocky Mountain high stoners of Colorado is nice, but before we go full blast, anti-drug war on heroin, maybe we should give our friends and family in states that didn’t vote for Hillary a chance to catch up first.

        Also, notice, the reason they had to go to the initiative processes in those blue states was because they had to legalize recreational marijuana over the objections of progressives in their legislatures. Progressives aren’t sure people should be allowed to drink large soft drinks or eat at McDonalds, much less smoke marijuana.

        In other words, we’ve won a few battles, but this war isn’t won yet. We’ve won our battles in part by separating heroin and marijuana in minds of the unwashed masses. When we’re talking with friends and family (how most people’s minds change over time), let’s make sure not to overplay our hand.

        Our enemies will paint marijuana legalization as a slippery slope to heroin–let’s not play into that.

  8. Stivers said that this new bill would probably cost “in the tens of millions of dollars” but that “it is worthwhile to send a message?it’s time for this to stop at whatever level for whatever drug it may be.”

    If you want to spend tens of millions of dollars to send a message, buy a fkn Super Bowl ad. But don’t do it via the law.

    1. It’ll stop when politicians can’t get effective pain medication. The millions of people before that who will be made to suffer, who gives a shit about them?

      1. That’s true and it’s actually already happening. 🙂

  9. Isn’t it funny when people look like their name? His first name should be Rick, but that’s ok.

  10. When you crack down on doctors prescribing opiates for long term pain relief you get people going on the street for heroin. Its not shocking that heroin use is climbing.

    1. You can’t love pain relief and God at the same time. That’s why the need to punish you, it’s for your own good. You’re welcome.

    2. This^^^^

      Every addict I’ve ever treated in Baltimore will say

      OxyContin > heroin > fentanyl (which is the cause of 70-90% of the opioids deaths today not heroin)

      Addicts will always exists, but let’s create more of them by regulating and limiting oxy out of
      Existence to pain patients who Almost never become addicts. Sure a few addicts will abuse the oxy but they’d be a lot safer and grandma in hospice can get her drugs again.

  11. If I can get elected by holding up a picture of a drug-overdosed child and swearing I won’t let this happen again, what does it matter how much street crime my new laws cause?

  12. There is a big economic reason for increased prison sentences. It has created an whole new industry. The unions have prevented most of the work from prison programs which lowers the morale of the prisoners and makes them store up unused energy for other outlets.

    Crime is big business for attorneys, judges and police.

  13. Not only that, but unfortunately the med’l establishment in the USA (Other countries? Anyone?) seems to saying (for instance as on the cover story of the NY Med’l Col. alumni mag I just got, The Chironian) that in recent yrs. the pendulum had swung too far in the direction of pain rx, & now needs to focus more on the danger of narcotic “addiction”. I suppose that was in evidence a few yrs. ago when a recent US gov’t-endorsed publ’n favoring pain rx was withdrawn, DEA having decided it was necessary to encourage less rather than more drugging of pain pts.

  14. Really not a serious article on this if you leave out the exploding overdose rates for heroin.

    Heroin Overdose Rates up over 400% since 2010 to 12k/year

    1. To me, that’s just not relevant. For one thing, 12k a year is hardly anything. Second of all, since I value freedom over security (false or real), no amount of deaths could get me to accept the government taking control of people’s bodies.

  15. How are things in Portugal? Might be instructive.

    However, if decriminalizing reduces OD incidence, that could be a blow to the medical industry.

  16. just before I saw the receipt that said $7527 , I accept that my mom in-law wiz like actually making money in there spare time from there pretty old laptop. . there aunt had bean doing this for less than twenty months and at present cleared the dept on there apartment and bout a great new Citroen CV . look here…….
    ________________________ http://www.4dayjobs.com

  17. I’ve posted this before but it bears repeating.

  18. First of all, almost the entire epidemic is synthetic fentanyl (50-100x the potency of morphine and many times that of heroin; 1-2mg of pure fentanyl will kill any adult male whilethat figure is 30-50g for 100% pure heroin). The extreme caution that must be applied by the fentanyl producers to not kill dozens or 100s of addicts in a single batch is a skill these illegal peddlers lack causing the extreme death rise from opioids

    All this happened bc we created an AMAZING “legal” drug called OxyContin who most everyone who needed it did not become addicts. Crack down on doctors and regulate it out of existence so the few abusers couldn’t have it but now also the ppl who legit needed it couldn’t get it either.
    So they go to dope, no problems with deaths so to say, just government helpers also turning pain patients into illegal drug users with risks that did not exist with properly used pain killers….then the smart drug dealers get their own Walter whites to create something way easier and cheaper to cultivate than actual heroin and boom ppl dropping like flies.

    So more regulation and more pain patients turned to the street but this time one pop can drop them. But these all knowing overlords just can’t seem to help themselves to make it worse with every fix they come up with.

    Drug addicts will always exist but instead let’s mass give out OxyContin again to the pain patients easily. Most will take it no problems, no overdoses no crime.
    -a nurse who worked in Baltimore

    1. On a lighter note….

      http://thatguysonheroin.com (A charm city original)

  19. Have been on the same dose of Percocet for 10 years. Moved from NYC to Ohio and it’s like I’ve asked for poison. It’s been unreal how bad it’s gotten to get pain relief in the last 15 years…the pendulum started swinging back to opiates are evil when the DEA started prosecuting doctors for doing their job. Doctors are scared. They won’t take on new patients. I had to drive 1000 miles back to NYC to get a prescription recently …and I’m not on s high dose. My internist in Ohio has told me he will work with me to give me opiates and Valium (thanks to that dumb ass Obama surgeon general for making my pain worse) but now I have to get a note from my rheumatologist and my hip orthopedist doctor agreeing that I need opiates and Valium before he will continue to prescribe …worst case I have to keep driving to NYC every two months …and meanwhile when they talk about mixing Valium and Percocet? That’s not dangerous compared to mixing it with alcohol or rather the Tylenol in Percocet with alcohol …. and yeah I don’t drink but even telling a doctor that can make them nervous you’re an alcoholic and might abuse the drugs …it’s insane.

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