Alabama lawmakers on April 6 passed a bill to harshen penalties for fentanyl trafficking in an effort to combat the ongoing deadly overdose crisis.
The bill, which passed the Senate with a 31–0 vote, sets mandatory minimum sentences based on the weight of the drug including up to life imprisonment for possession of 8 grams or more.
Governor Kay Ivey has stated that she will sign the legislation into law quickly.
“Combating this deadly drug will continue to be a top priority for our Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and I will do everything in my power to stop this drug from being a killer in Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and counterfeit pain pills, making it difficult for people to know they are ingesting it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), synthetic opioids were responsible for killing more than 70,000 people in the U.S. in 2021, with fentanyl being the most common culprit.
Alabama Representative Matt Simpson, a former prosecutor and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation aims to target sellers instead of people who are buying drugs that may have been mixed with fentanyl.
Simpson clarified that the weights are for “pure fentanyl” and not the combined weight when fentanyl is mixed with another drug. He emphasized that “1 gram can kill up to 500 people” and that “1 gram is not for personal use.”
The bill sets mandatory prison sentences and fines for trafficking 1 gram of fentanyl or more, with punishments ranging from three years in prison for amounts between 1 gram and 2 grams to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole for amounts of 8 grams or more.
Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, noted that several lawmakers had discussed the bill before the vote, with some requesting assurances that the weights were not too low.
The move by Alabama is part of a broader effort by lawmakers across the country to combat what has been described as the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history. The measure will take effect in June.