Mar 262012
 
Authors: Jason Pohl

Drug laws in Colorado continue to go under the microscope, most recently as lawmakers decide whether or not to reduce sentencing for people caught with certain illegal substances containing methamphetamine.

Supporters of Senate Bill 163 say the current system ineffectively drains resources while targeting addicts and users needing help. Under a revamped system, they say those groups would have greater access to community treatment facilities while serious offenders like dealers would be the focus of more harsh legal sanctions.

“The road to recovery is long and challenging, but a detour to prison and a felony conviction on one’s record only make it more daunting,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, in a statement on his official website. “We can be smarter in our approach, and SB 163 is the next step in getting us there.”

Steadman did not return calls or an email from the Collegian.

If passed, the bill would reduce the punishment for possession of less than four grams of a substance containing any type of methamphetamine from a class six felony to a class one misdemeanor. Likewise, possession of more than four grams of the drug would result in a reduction from a class-four to a class-six felony.

Steadman is joined by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, who last week announced a close family member had gone through the jail system during a meth addiction.

Mitchell, too, was unavailable for comment at the time of publication but was quoted in the Denver Post as saying “This is not legalization. This is not decriminalization. This is simply a smarter approach to fighting the evils of drug abuse in our society.”

The bill also calls for a deeper examination of the jails, funding and treatment facilities.

But not everyone is convinced this type of legislative change is best for the state –– at least not based on current trends.

“I’m absolutely, positively open to looking at alternate ways to dealing with these types of cases,” said Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, who was quick to caution this is not the most complete and thought out plan.

Smith called for additional in-depth studies and police consultation before any sort of sweeping legislation is passed. Further, he cited a reduction in crimes over the years coinciding with a “get-tough” approach to drug laws.

Senate Bill 163 currently has bipartisan support in the Colorado House and Senate, and will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, marking another step of controversy surrounding the state’s drug laws, especially in an election year like 2012.

“The fate of this bill is anything but set,” according to John Straayer, a political science professor at CSU. “It’s always risky predicting bill outcomes in an election year but, yes, I believe this bill does have a chance.”

He explained the redistricting that has taken place has mixed up the constituent base. This, he said, can change the game quickly.

“You might see some ‘no’ votes coming from members who fear being labeled ‘soft on crime,‘” he added.

At the same time, efforts to legalize pot in varying degrees continue to dominate the upcoming November election in Colorado with some reaching as far as saying it should be legalized like alcohol and tobacco.

“I do believe that public opinion is changing some and gives bills like this a better chance of passage,” Straayer said. “But I doubt if this bill, in and of itself, signals any impending major and broad-based change in law.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Explain it to me: Colorado Senate Bill 163
What: Reduce crime severity from felony to misdemeanor in some cases for possession of methamphetamine
Supporters: Claim it would give people badly needed drug help, correcting a larger systemic issue
Opposition: Say not enough understanding, input has been had. Could overcrowd jails, shift burden to local authorities

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