KY Policy Blog

New Version of Drug Bill Would Have Serious Consequences for Addicts and Criminal Justice System

By Ashley Spalding
March 30, 2017

A new version of House Bill 333 passed the Senate Judiciary committee late last night. The bill contains very consequential changes for Kentuckians struggling with addiction, as well as the state’s criminal justice system.

An earlier version of HB 333 increased penalties for fentanyl trafficking in very small amounts — any amount under two grams. However, these penalties would not apply if a person could prove that he/she had a substance abuse problem at the time of the offense. This provision was important because the state’s definition of trafficking is so broad that one addict handing another addict a small amount of the drug would be considered trafficking.

As we noted previously, these approaches to Kentucky’s devastating drug problems are not effective ways to address these issues and are very costly to the state (particularly legislation that includes increased penalties for heroin trafficking). Prior to the amendments that would somewhat mitigate the impact on addicts, HB 333 was expected to cost the state $4 million. A similar bill, Senate Bill 14, that included both heroin and fentanyl, however, was expected to costs the state between $30 and $35 million.

The new version of HB 333 that passed Senate Judiciary last night and will be considered on  the last day of the session not only adds increased penalties for heroin (where previously it focused on fentanyl), it takes out the provision that could enable addicts to avoid the increased penalties. This means that a person who transfers any amount of heroin or fentanyl to another person will be charged with a Class C felony with a 5 to 10 year sentence and not be eligible for parole until half of their sentence is served. Currently an addict caught sharing under two grams of these drugs in this way would be charged with a Class D felony with a 1 to 5 year sentence, with parole eligibility after serving 20 percent of the sentence (for a first offense).

Not only would the new version of HB 333 lock up more addicts for longer periods of time and be ineffective in addressing the state’s addiction problems, it would be very costly for the already overburdened criminal justice system . The bill would have costs even greater than the fiscal estimate for SB 14 of $30 to $35 million (as that analysis assumed those trafficking in amounts under 2 grams would still qualify for parole after serving 20 percent of their sentence). Meanwhile, the state’s inmate population has been growing and the corrections system budget is expected to be $35 million over projections this year — and this is on top of $89.6 million over the past five years in extra money needed due to the state’s inmate population being over projections.

The new version of HB 333 would send our state in the wrong direction with criminal justice issues, which is especially disappointing given the momentum for reforms at the beginning of the legislative session with the governor-appointed Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC) — and the small steps forward for reentry in Senate Bill 120, which received final passage yesterday.

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