B y Ana Mashek
Colorado Bill 1263 which takes effect in 2020 and work to “defelonize” Schedule I and II drugs. If someone is caught with a small quantity of these drugs, which include heroin, oxycodone, opium, heroin, marijuana, LSD, and ecstasy, they will no longer be charged with a felony,
but rather with a misdemeanor.
In Colorado, a felony conviction results in a minimum one year sentence in state prison. Colorado Springs attorney James Newby said this kind of conviction is “a burden [one] will carry for decades,” one that involves lifelong consequences.
With this new law in place, those found with Schedule I and II drugs will likely still appear in front of a judge to be sentenced, although the goal is to “give [drug users] another chance,” according to Leslie Herod, the State Rep. who sponsored the bill.
However, drug possession is far from being decriminalized. The bill still subjects those found with the substances in question to a jail sentence. Bill 1263 will not protect those who deal Schedule I and II drugs or those found with large quantities. Herod admits that the war on drugs has been a “failure,” so she’s taking a radical new approach to address the drug problem in Colorado. The Denver Post reports that drug overdoses killed more Coloradans in 2017 than car crashes. Colorado Springs’ accounts for just 12% of the state population, but The Addiction Center, an online referral service to drug abuse treatment centers, reported that 15% of Colorado’s fatal heroin overdoses have occurred here. In 2016, The Center additionally recorded 141 fatal drug overdoses in El Paso County, more than any other Colorado county that year.
As far as the financial implications of Bill 1263, the Joint Budget Committee predicted that its passage would save the state “anywhere from $8.6 million to $13.7 million over the next five years,” accounting for the fact that there will be fewer inmates in the state prison and fewer prosecutions of felons.
However, these figures are rough projections, and some have raised concerns about the impact the bill may have in Colorado Springs.
Sheriff Bill Elder of El Paso County, in a video published Apr. 19, 2019, expressed fears that the misdemeanor sentence would put strain on “taxpayers of counties,” because drug sentences would be served in county jails rather than in the State Department of Corrections. Elder predicts that
the bill would cost counties millions annually. There is also concern that the occurrence of homelessness in Colorado Springs could increase. In another instance, Elder cited “Seattle Is Dying,” a documentary from Sinclair Broadcasting station KOMO News; “Seattle, Washington did this exact same change and their homeless population has skyrocketed,” he said, according to The Denver Channel. Herod was quick to respond to this concern, though, saying that “nothing in the documentary relates to [Colorado Bill 1263] at all.”
2020 will indicate whether this new initiative
can serve as a solution to the drug
epidemic or exacerbate it, especially as it
relates to Colorado Springs.