Under a newly signed Florida law, Possession of just four grams of the synthetic drug fentanyl can land a person in jail for a minimum of 3 years. Some are pushing back against the mandatory minimum sentence. But others claim it makes sense when one considers that that same amount—just four ounces--is enough to kill a room full of people.
Florida is facing a Fentanyl epidemic. The number of overdose deaths from the drug is skyrocketing and Attorney General Pam Bondi is calling the drug is extremely dangerous.
“This is black market fentanyl. This isn’t the fentanyl that is being administered to cancer patients, to surgery patients. This is black market stuff that’s being manufactured in Asia and its coming in through the traditional smuggling routes—Canada and mostly Mexico and its coming into our country and into our state,” Bondi says.
Bondi is applauding a bill signed by Governor Rick Scott that cracks down on the trafficking of fentanyl and puts mandatory minimum sentences in place. And Florida Sheriffs Association President Jerry Demings says the measures gives important new tools to law enforcement.
“That is where we want to better hold accountable drug dealers that are peddling fentanyl and heroin and any mixtures there of that causes people to die throughout the state of Florida,” Demings says.
But the measure has also gotten pushback from people who have raised concerns about implementing new mandatory minimum sentences. That debate led to a back and forth between the House and the Senate during the legislative session. Senators voted for a version of the bill that did not contain the mandatory minimums, but the House put the sentences back on and returned the bill to the Senate. With the end of the session looming, and pressure to get a bill on the books mounting, Senators accepted the change.
But Lauren Krisai, who works for a Libertarian think-tank called the Reason Foundation argues mandatory minimums aren’t effective. She says looking at heroin abuse shows that.
“The arguments that are always made by legislators is that we need these laws to serve as a deterrent and to prevent people from doing these things. But if the prison population today is 63-percent have never been to prison before, clearly that deterrent factor isn’t working, right? And with this Heroine epidemic that has exploded over the past few years, it certainly hasn’t reduced drug use either,” Krisai says.
Instead, Krisai says mandatory minimums tie the hands of judges, taking away their discretion and often saddling offenders with heavy sentences.
“In Florida the people who can get caught up under these laws and have with the mandatory minimums for prescription opioids are not high level dealers. They’re people who it’s their first time in prison and they’ve bought a handful of pills. And we have dozens if not hundreds of examples of that happening there,” Krisai says.
Attorney General Bondi disagrees, saying the bill will work to target dealers.
“No addict is going to be in possession of a trafficking amount. If you opened that and it was airborne, we would all be dead right now. That’s how lethal and how large four grams of fentanyl is for a trafficking amount. 2,000-6,000 lives could be killed as a result of it. So in my opinion it’s not controversial. It’s much needed,” Bondi says.
Bondi says she thinks of the addicts as victims. And that could be a place where she and Krisai agree. Krisai says states could be better served by focusing on treatment. And Bondi says getting long term treatment for addicts is what she plans to start working on next.