California Democrats Reject Key Fentanyl Crackdown Bills

In California, where the fentanyl crisis has led to more overdose deaths than in any other state, Democrats in the State Assembly public safety committee blocked crucial legislation that would have imposed tougher laws on fentanyl dealers. By doing so, they signaled their commitment to continuing the progressive push to roll back criminal penalties for even the most serious drug-related crimes.

The committee blocked two bills that would have strengthened punishments for dealers who cause serious injury or death with fentanyl or are caught possessing large quantities of the synthetic drug. They also weakened a proposed ban on dealers carrying firearms and sidelined a measure that would have increased penalties for fentanyl trafficking on social media.

Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher expressed his disappointment: “Despite all the talk, the extremist legislators who opposed these bills guaranteed that innocent Californians will continue to die, victims of drug dealers profiting off poisoning our communities.”

The committee only agreed to debate the fentanyl dealer-targeting bills after Republican lawmakers threatened to force a floor vote on the measures. While Democrats argued that they were already doing something to address the crisis, such as investing in harm reduction programs, Republicans criticized this approach as insufficient. Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R) argued that if lawmakers cared about addicts, they would also care about holding their dealers accountable.

Instead of supporting the stricter legislation, the committee advanced three incremental measures against fentanyl dealers:

  • Boosting their sentences to match those of cocaine and heroin sellers.
  • Promoting law enforcement cooperation against them.
  • Creating a task force to study fentanyl trafficking.

The California Senate public safety committee, dominated by progressives, also voted down a bipartisan bill that would have allowed law enforcement to advise fentanyl dealers about the deadly risks of their products. If a dealer sold fentanyl again and caused a death, they could have faced second-degree murder charges—a similar law for drunk drivers has been in place for years.

The fentanyl crisis has further divided the Democratic lawmakers in California, with Republicans and moderate Democrats pushing for more substantial prison sentences for fentanyl dealers. In contrast, others are cautious about policies that may lead to more incarceration.

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat and chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, dismissed bills that increase prison sentences as “a Republican playbook.” However, Democratic Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris countered, “This is not a red state crisis or a blue state crisis. This is an American crisis, and it’s certainly a California crisis.”

The fentanyl epidemic, which claimed one in five deaths among Californians aged 15 to 24 last year, demands immediate attention and action. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) proposed over $90 million in new spending to combat the crisis and directed the California Highway Patrol and National Guard to assist San Francisco in tackling fentanyl. Nonetheless, Newsom has not publicly supported any fentanyl-related legislation.