Colorado Methamphetamine Task Force votes to oppose legislation that would dramatically reduce drug-crime sentences

DENVER — Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced today that the Colorado Methamphetamine Task Force has voted to oppose Senate Bill 12-163, which would make the possession of Schedule I and Schedule II drugs a misdemeanor instead of a class-six felony. Suthers serves as chairman of the Colorado Methamphetamine Task Force.

The legislation seeks to solve a problem that largely does not exist: first-time drug offenders being sentenced to prison. The legislation instead would only eliminate prison sentences for a small percentage of offenders. State statistics show that 51.71 percent of those charged with a class-six felony drug possession are given a deferred judgment, which permits a defendant to avoid the effects of a felony conviction by completing a period of supervision and treatment. The high success rate of offenders each year is motivated almost exclusively by the desire to avoid having a felony conviction on their records. By removing this motivation and making the sanction a misdemeanor, fewer people will engage in treatment or successfully address their substance abuse issues.

The Colorado Methamphetamine Task Force, whose membership includes representatives from the judiciary, the defense bar, law enforcement and district attorneys, unanimously agreed on this issue during their Friday, March 23 meeting.

Evidence-based offender management research supports higher levels of supervision for high-risk offenders. This type of supervision is best done in a structured setting like community corrections. However, community corrections sentences are not available for misdemeanants. Thus, this bill seeks to remove the most effective setting to treat high-risk offenders likely to commit additional crimes, be a risk to themselves and their families, and continue their drug use. Additionally resources devoted to misdemeanor-offender supervision are far less successful in treating high-risk offenders.

The General Assembly has classified drugs as Schedule I and Schedule II substances because they have a high potential for abuse, are highly addictive, and either have no medical use or require severe restrictions on their use. The Methamphetamine Task Force noted that less than a hundredth of 1 percent of Coloradans are sentenced to prison as a result of class-six felony drug possession charges. The Task Force said the message that Colorado would downgrade the seriousness of using dangerous drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and oxycodone is a bad public policy. The Task Force agreed that this is especially important in light of Colorado’s growing problem of prescription drug abuse and overdoses. Now more than ever, the Task Force agreed, is a time to continue to communicate the message that these drugs are taken very seriously by our society.

The legislation also overlooks that the minority of defendants who receive prison terms as a result of drug offenses almost always have failed numerous attempts at treatment or refused to participate. Senate Bill 12-163 decreases the amount of time these types of offenders can receive supervision by eliminating mandatory parole. As a result, these offenders no longer would receive post-incarceration supervision and treatment services. Senate Bill 12-163 neither assists these offenders in pursuing sobriety nor enhances public safety.

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