Assembly Democrats Back Off on Support for Tougher Fentanyl Penalties

During a dramatic hearing Thursday at the state Capitol, seven fentanyl measures finally received a verdict: Four bills passed, but the two most sweeping failed and a third was put on hold.

Watching closely were grieving families who lost loved ones to fentanyl poisoning, recovering addicts and advocates for criminal justice reform.

To get inside the cramped hearing room, many lined up for more than an hour before the Assembly Public Safety Committee convened a hearing held after pressure from Republicans and some Democrats.

Kellie Amaru, from Willows, said she lost her son Ryan when he was 27 to a fentanyl overdose and said she was disappointed with the committee.

“I’m afraid it’s all talk,” she said. “They’re just trying to make political points. They got to realize that some of us are actually voters.”

Much of the committee’s debate centered on a key policy choice: Is it better to treat the fentanyl crisis, which killed 5,722 people in California in 2021, as a public health issue? Or is it a public safety emergency where harsher punishments could deter drug dealers?

While lawmakers agreed that there was no one solution, Democrats on the committee pushed back on the bills to increase sentences, warning that such policies mirrored the mass incarceration that followed the 1980s “War on Drugs,” which disproportionately targeted Black and Latino communities.

Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Los Angeles Democrat and chairperson of the committee, said, “I was a mortician during the crack cocaine crisis. I’m not a mortician right now because of the crack cocaine crisis. Our communities were decimated by the War on Drugs.”

All but one of the bills were authored by Democrats. The two bills to increase penalties that failed to advance were only supported by the two Republicans on the committee, Juan Alanis from Modesto and Tom Lackey from Palmdale. Soon after the votes, the Assembly Republican Caucus slammed “radical Democrats” for siding with drug dealers.

Jim Patterson, Fresno Republican and author of one of the rejected bills said, “If we really care about the addicts, wouldn’t we also care that their dealers are on the street churning more and more? If there are not consequences, there will be repeat supply available.”

The four bills that passed (just beating today’s deadline for policy committees to approve bills that also need the blessing of a fiscal committee):

  • AB 33 to establish a task force to address fentanyl addiction and overdoses
  • AB 474 to prioritize cooperation between state and local law enforcement to crack down on fentanyl trafficking
  • AB 675 to make it illegal to carry a gun while in possession of fentanyl
  • AB 701 to increase fines for dealers by putting fentanyl in the same category as heroin and cocaine.

The three bills that did not advance:

  • AB 367 to add sentencing enhancements for those who seriously injure or kill through fentanyl poisoning
  • AB 955 to increase penalties for dealers who sell fentanyl over social media (held for study)
  • AB 1058 to increase penalties for those possessing a large amount of fentanyl.


  1. Study, cooperate, something about a corner case crime related to guns, and fines. I think all the parents that said it seems the state is doing nothing to address the problem are correct. Our children are dying and politicians stand by virtue signaling. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we voted for so we know who ultimately to blame and we see them in the mirror each day.

  2. Of course Democrats want to back off on tougher penalties. I would expect nothing less. Look in every crime ridden city and whose in charge?

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