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A Louisiana lawmaker filed a bill Monday that would raise the criminal penalties for distributing fentanyl to the equivalent of murder.
Republican Crowley state Rep. John Stefanski said he believes the penalty - life in prison at hard labor without parole or probation - would be the most severe in the nation.
"It’s time that the consequences for creating and distributing fentanyl matches the violent damage it causes,” Stefanski said in a statement. "The fentanyl crisis Louisiana is fighting knows no zip code, it knows no social class, gender or age. This toxic poison is stealing the lives of thousands of innocent Lousianans."
Stefanski is also running for Louisiana Attorney General.
Stefanski's measure, House Bill 90, would make the life without parole penalty effective for anyone convicted of possessing more than 28 grams, or one ounce. The penalties for possession of less than 28 grams would remain five to 40 years in prison with up to a $50,000 fine.
"I consulted with sheriffs and (district attorneys) for the amount that would trigger the severest of penalties," Stefanski told USA Today Network. "It's extreme, but it's my hope that this will run it our of the state in the same way the same penalty for heroin did. That had a chilling effect on drug dealers who just stopped handling (heroin)."
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, Louisiana fentanyl drug-related deaths increased from fewer than 200 statewide in 2017 to nearly 1,000 in 2021, the most recent stats available.
“With this legislation – we are sending a message loud and clear to drug traffickers that the state of Louisiana will have a zero-tolerance policy concerning fentanyl," Stefanski said. "The penalty for possession or distribution of fentanyl 28 grams or more will now be equivalent to that of a violent crime like homicide: life in prison.”
In a December press release, the Louisiana Department of Health said there has been "an alarming increase across the United States in the availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl, a powerful opioid that has proven more lethal than other forms of narcotics. International and domestic criminal drug networks are mass producing fake pills and falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription pills, which has resulted in tragic fatal overdoses. The counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available and often contain deadly amounts of fentanyl."
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Louisiana lawmaker would make fentanyl penalties on par with murder