Criminal penalties for unlawfully manufacturing or distributing fentanyl – a prescription opioid found to be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin – would be doubled under legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-Ocean.) The bill, S-1026, has been advanced by the Senate Health Committee.
Sen. Jim Holzapfel’s bill would double criminal penalties for unlawfully manufacturing or fentanyl, a drug 50 times more powerful than heroin. (Wikimedia Commons)
“Fentanyl was first put on the market to help terminal patients cope with severe, end of life pain but now, officials are reporting that it’s in almost every pack of heroin found in Ocean County,” Senator Holzapfel said. “We have to do everything we can to deter criminals from dispensing or manufacturing this deadly drug. The penalties for committing these crimes must, at the very least, match those for dealing heroin or cocaine.”
In New Jersey, overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl tripled in 2014. Fentanyl is odorless, colorless and nearly impossible to detect, compounding the risk for users who are unaware that heroin is now often laced with the far more powerful substance.
Unlawfully manufacturing or distributing fentanyl is currently classified as a second degree offense, while penalties for producing or dealing heroin or cocaine are more severe.
Sen. Holzapfel’s bill, S-1026, would establish unlawfully distributing, dispensing or manufacturing fentanyl as a first degree offense, doubling the maximum prison sentence from 10 to 20 years, with a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed. Those convicted of unlawfully producing or dispensing less than one ounce of fentanyl would also face larger fines.
The Assembly version of the bill is sponsored by fellow District 10 legislators, Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and Dave Wolfe.
“As a former Ocean County prosecutor, I have seen the toll the heroin epidemic has taken on local families,” Senator Holzapfel added. “The massive influx of fentanyl poses a new and dangerous threat to our community. Doubling maximum prison terms, increasing fines, and imposing mandatory sentences is the very least we can do to send a message to the fentanyl dealers and manufactures who insist on committing these crimes.”
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