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Minimum sentences for fentanyl possession back on the table as legislators discuss new bill proposal

Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl
Drug Enforcement Administration
These pills were made to look like Oxycodone, but they're actually an illicit form of the potent painkiller fentanyl.

Community members, law enforcement, advocates and legal experts testified on Friday on a proposed bill that would mandate sentencing minimums for fentanyl possession.

The legislation would make possession of four grams of fentanyl, or a mixture that has any amount of fentanyl, a felony punishable with a minimum sentence of three years in prison. Possession of 14 grams or more would incur a minimum sentence of five years while anything more than 28 grams 10 years prison time.

Law enforcement largely supported the bill, testifying mandatory prison time would deter traffickers and help them address the growing fentanyl crisis.

Representative Ted Hill, who sponsored the bill, agreed.

“They need these tools, decisive tools to stop this threat. They need to make it so operations are difficult here in Idaho and shut down the cartels,” he said.

“If you want to scare away the cartels, you want to scare away the scumbags, have some laws, put some teeth into it. We'll scare them away.”

Boise resident Todd Hogan said mandatory minimums criminalizes people suffering from addictions.

“These individuals more often than not, come out the other end of these long sentences institutionalized, gang affiliated and with an ingrained criminal mentality,” he said.

“By removing a judge's discretion and sentencing, we are, in fact, taking away their ability to decide if the individual before them is a hardened criminal, or if there is someone who has made poor choices but is redeemable.”

Susan Mansfield also spoke against the bill, saying it needed to include language about intent to traffic. She said her son died from an overdose after spending time in jail.

“His crime was against his own body. He needed rehab. Jail and prison only taught him how to deepen his addiction behavior. Mandatory minimums are not good for addicts,” she testified.

“We need a law that distinguishes addicts from traffickers. Addicts need rehab. Traffickers need to feel the full weight of the law,” she said.

Grant Loebs, a prosecutor in Twin Falls County representing the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, spoke in support of the bill and against adding intent to distribute language in the text.

“If you add intent to this, then large shipments, large quantities of drugs will not be prosecutable as trafficking because we won't be able to prove the intent,” he said.

The CDC reports drug deaths in the U.S. rose almost 60%, from 70,000 in 2020 to 110,000 in 2023. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than other opioids and accounted for half of Idaho’s 381 drug overdoses in 2022.

The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee will reconvene on Tuesday to decide whether to move the bill to the House floor. A similar proposal did not move past Committee last year.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mentioned Susan Mansfield was the wife of  Rep. Dennis Mansfield. There is no Representative Dennis Mansfield.

As the Canyon County reporter, I cover the Latina/o/x communities and agricultural hub of the Treasure Valley. I’m super invested in local journalism and social equity, and very grateful to be working in Idaho.

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