The Alabama House of Representatives in session on March 14, 2023. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama House of Representatives Thursday approved a bill that would increase mandatory minimum sentences for the unlawful sale, manufacture, delivery or possession of one or more grams of fentanyl.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, passed the chamber 105 to 0. It goes to the Senate.
“We’re not going after the people that have the mixtures – the mixture is already in the law,” Simpson said during the debate. “This is going after the people that have pure fentanyl that have a single component of pure fentanyl,” he said.
Current law provides a fine for any amount of fentanyl, and imprisonment for any amount four grams or more. Simpson’s bill would include imprisonment and fines for amounts under four grams and added imprisonment and fines for amounts four grams or more.
Possession of one to two grams would lead to a mandatory minimum of three years imprisonment and a minimum of a $50,000 fine.
For two to four grams, a person would be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years and to pay a minimum of a $100,000 fine.
If possessing four grams to eight grams, the sentence would be a minimum of 25 years and a minimum $500,000.
Eight grams or more, the offender would be sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay a minimum fine of $750,000.
House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said last week that the bill was the House first priority. HB 1 was the first bill to come to a vote in the House in the 2023 session.
Republicans and Democrats alike voiced their support for the bill and discussed some of the effects of exposure to fentanyl.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, said her office is near a mortuary, where she said a majority of cremations are because of fentanyl overdose. But that she supports the legislation because it focuses on prosecuting people manufacturing and distributing the drug.
“Even with the crack cocaine era, we went after those who were selling it,” she said. “But it wasn’t until you began a process of cracking down on the distributor or manufacturer of these drugs that you had a better shot of it beginning to stop.”
But she asked for clarification on the weight and sentencing provided in the bill.
Simpson said that at least one gram of fentanyl could kill every member of the Alabama House five times. The representative said that the bill is meant to address traffickers who possess pure fentanyl, not people who may be possessing it as a mixture.
The lethal dose of fentanyl is about 2 milligrams. One gram of fentanyl would potentially kill about 500 people, if each one ingested 2 mg of the drug. Fentanyl cannot be absorbed by skin contact.
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, asked about water being laced with fentanyl, and about the drug potentially contaminating water supplies. Simpson said he was informed that fentanyl is not water soluble and that would not happen.
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Updated at 9:12 a.m. to correct math on the fentanyl. A gram of fentanyl could kill 500 people. An earlier version of the story said it could kill 50 people.
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