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Mandatory minimums for fentanyl trafficking become law

Staff Writer | February 27, 2024 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill Monday creating mandatory prison sentences for fentanyl trafficking.

The House and Senate both passed House Bill 406, which takes effect July 1, by large margins. Lawmakers faced pressure to support the bill from a “heavily funded” political action committee, according to reporting by BoiseDev, as well as from law enforcement groups.

Under the new law, people convicted of possession between four and 14 grams of fentanyl or “any mixture or substance containing a detectable amount” of fentanyl will face a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the fentanyl is in pill form, it would take between 100 and 249 pills to receive that sentence.

Those convicted of possessing between 14 and 28 grams of fentanyl or between 250 and 500 pills would face a mandatory five-year prison sentence and a $15,000 fine. For possession of more than 28 grams or more than 500 pills, the minimum sentence is 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

The bill also includes provisions for the crime of “drug-induced homicide,” meaning a person could be charged with a felony if they supply drugs that later kill someone.

North Idaho lawmakers were divided on the legislation.

Several members of the House who represent Kootenai County legislative districts voted against the bill, including Vito Barbieri, Ron Mendive, Elaine Price and Tony Wisniewski. The four legislators did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Others, including Sen. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, supported House Bill 406.

“I supported the bill as a cosponsor after listening closely to local and state law enforcement officials on the value and importance of the measure,” Okuniewicz said Monday.

Rep. Jordan Redman, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he was happy to hear Little had signed the bill into law.

“I believe this legislation sends a strong message to drug traffickers that this lethal drug and the death and destruction that come with it isn’t going to be tolerated here,” he said. “This is a major step in the right direction for Idaho.”

Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, said police and prosecutors have asked legislators to establish minimum mandatory sentences, which can be a tool used to “fight the scourge of fentanyl in Idaho.”

“The bill targets traffickers and while it’s not the answer to our drug problem — there is no one answer — I’m hoping it reduces the flow of fentanyl into Idaho and hopefully saves lives,” Alfieri said via email.

Opponents of House Bill 406 have said the legislation would take away discretion from judges and lacks clear distinctions between fentanyl manufacturers, dealers, traffickers and users.

Earlier this month, Sen. Phil Hart, R-Kellogg, told the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee that he met with individuals who are in recovery from substance abuse disorders, including people who used fentanyl.

Hart said he thought the bill would result in people who possess drugs containing trace amounts of fentanyl being “overcharged” with trafficking. He also criticized the “drug-induced homicide” provision.

“I think we want a fentanyl bill, we want to be tough on fentanyl, but I don’t think this is the bill to do it,” Hart said.

Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris and Prosecuting Attorney Stan Mortensen have both called for mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl trafficking, in line with Idaho’s existing mandatory minimums for trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine.

“Passing the fentanyl bill tells traffickers that the Idaho borders are closed for anybody transporting illegal drugs,” Norris said Monday.

    Sheriff Robert "Bob" Norris