Photo attribution: NIDA website
Rob Squire and Lisa Pope were asked by the Downtown Denver Partnership to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, regarding the bi-partisan sponsored, House Bill 22-1326 – Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention. We were asked to testify from the perspective of how the fentanyl crisis has affected downtown.
There were approximately 60 speakers who testified and answered the Committee’s questions. The hearing was estimated to last until approximately 4:30 a.m. The speakers included families, medical professionals, law enforcement, mental health and drug addiction professionals, district attorneys, business leaders, mayors, and private citizens. The personal testimonies of families and former drug addicts affected by fentanyl were heartbreaking.
Much of the testimony and debate was about whether or not to lower the threshold for felony possession of fentanyl from the currently level of four grams. Opponents viewed it as being punitive to users. Many proponents view it as removing an opportunity for dealers to use the law as a cover, enabling them to carry more of their inventory on their person with less risk.
The testimonies of Rob Squire and Lisa Pope in support of the bill are appended.
While this Bill is far from perfect, it does have some aspects that people on both sides of the issue can agree. See the full text of the bill here: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb22-1326.
The following day, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee by an 8-3 vote with two amendments: 1) making it a felony to possess more than one gram of a substance that contains any amount of fentanyl, IF the person knew or should have known what they had; and 2) making it a felony to possess a compound mixture that is found to be 60% or more fentanyl.
Although it was approved by the Judiciary Committee, the bill still has many steps to go through before becoming law.
Rob Squire’s Testimony
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to present to you today. My name is Rob Squire, and I am President of the Upper Downtown Neighborhood Association. I am here to support this bill, but I am urging you to consider some changes to it.
UpDoNA represents residents and businesses in a large area of downtown, part of which is the section you may know as the Central Business District. We formed our Association last December because of the changes we have been seeing in downtown Denver.
My wife and I have lived downtown for 10 years, and chose it because it was a safe clean and fun place to live. However, over the past two years it has changed dramatically. We can’t walk past the corner of 16th & Champa, only two blocks from our home, without passing 8-10 people doing drugs openly – almost every single day. I’ve seen people doing drugs on sidewalks, in doorways, alleys and parking lots. I’ve seen people doing them on the steps of the Denver Center for Performing Arts and on the sidewalk outside the Colorado Convention Center.
Drug addiction often causes unemployment and homelessness, which I see every day with ever increasing numbers of people living on the streets. It has caused a rise in crimes that are committed to fund addiction, and it causes violent behavior – I know because I came very close to becoming a victim of violence by an addict. It causes a spiral into mental illness that we see every day with people standing on a street corner screaming crazily at anyone – or no one.
As a result, our own children and grandchildren are now reluctant to visit us downtown. For the first time since we have lived here, store after store, business after business and restaurant after restaurant have shuttered their businesses. Certainly a large part of the reason for their initial failure was COVID, but a large part of the reason for their continued closure is the increasing number of drug addicts walking the streets of Denver. Convention-goers are telling their organizations not to come back to Denver.
Everyone that lives, works or plays in our center city is impacted. This affects everyone in Colorado whether urban or rural residents since Denver is a primary economic driver in the state’s economy. It isn’t only the users that are impacted by drug abuse. It is the residents, business owners and tourists that are all affected. Society in general and the economic viability of Denver and of Colorado suffers because of drug users and pushers.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Judiciary Committee, what we have been doing just isn’t working, and when this happens, you have to do something different. Drug use has skyrocketed since drugs were de-felonized in 2019. Yesterday, the UpDoNA Board of Directors voted for me to tell you today that we support the passage of HB22-1326, especially the requirement for court-ordered drug treatment for possession of fentanyl under certain conditions.
However, this bill doesn’t go far enough. We agree with the conclusion expressed in the April 6th letter from the Metro Mayor’s Caucus to Senators Garnett, Lynch, Pettersen and Cooke that 4 grams of fentanyl is enough to kill 2,000 people.
It is impossible for any rational person to believe that someone possessing that amount of lethal drugs has it for his personal use. The current law simply gives dealers a safer way to carry large amounts of drugs containing fentanyl on their person.
We urge you to consider significantly reducing the possession limit of fentanyl for felony status. Drug pushers have a powerful economic incentive to sell fentanyl and to lace it in other reduced-potency drugs. It requires a powerful penalty to overcome that incentive. Re-felonizing the possession of fentanyl in much smaller limits provides that incentive.
Thank you for your time and attention.
President, Upper Downtown Neighborhood Association (UpDoNA)
Lisa Pope’s Testimony
Hello, my name is Lisa Pope. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. And, while I am aware that our entire State, and nation, is affected by fentanyl, I will be speaking today regarding its effect on downtown Denver.
I am the Vice President of a recently-formed RNO, the Upper Downtown Neighborhood Association, a/k/a UpDoNA and I have lived in downtown Denver for eight years. The main reason that UpDoNA formed is because of the growing concern of our residents of the deterioration of downtown Denver. Of course, the pandemic played a role in causing some of the issues that we face, but not all. Downtown Denver has seen an increase in crime, open drug use, gun violence, and homelessness.
As Vice President of UpDoNA, I have met with, and spoken to, many city and state leaders and agencies including, but not limited to, the mayor’s office, the Denver Police Department, the sheriff’s office, the Colorado Attorney General, State Senators, and the Denver Rescue Mission. The common thread of these conversations is the correlation between fentanyl use and the increase in crime and drug-addicted individuals, including the homeless, and I personally see this on a daily basis.
UpDoNA has a neighborhood Clean Up Day once a month during which we clean the Upper Downtown neighborhood streets, sidewalks, and alleyways. We tell our volunteers to be extremely careful and to look out for needles, burnt aluminum foil squares, and other drug paraphernalia that is hidden in the trash that we collect. Daily, I see needles and burnt aluminum foil left on our streets and sidewalks. I walk past drug users passed out with the foils still on their laps or those who are shaking, hallucinating, or agitated.
I have had conversations with many individuals who live outside of downtown who talk about how “bad” it is in downtown Denver. They no longer want to bring their families to downtown to see the open drug use, trash, and illegal encampments and they are afraid of the gun violence. I’ve spoken to a hotel manager who has found individuals hiding in the hotel garage using drugs and verbally abusing guests – one guest was a 10-year-old child. Many hotel guests have told the manager that they will not return to downtown Denver.
HB22-1326, which has bi-partisan sponsorship, begins to address and remedy some of the horrific effects of fentanyl on our community. And, although I believe that it needs to go further, since four grams of fentanyl is enough to kill 2,000 people, it is a step in the right direction to protect the lives of those who use and who are addicted to fentanyl, and to protect the lives of the innocent people who live, work, and visit downtown Denver.