Guest Opinion: Fentanyl, rising crime, and a public safety bill that fails on both
It is laughable that Democrats forced through a bill under the term “public safety,” when it ensures the opposite.
Last week, Democrats forced through a public safety bill that does little to actually address any form of “public safety.” The bill makes thousands of criminals eligible for early release, reduces sentences for violent offenders, neglects the needs of law enforcement, and funnels millions of dollars to untested and unproven nonprofit organizations. This is a bad bill that cares more about giving criminals a “get out of jail free card” than it does about addressing issues that have contributed to rising crime rates.
One specific area that I find incredibly troubling is drug use and fentanyl addiction, and how this bill hardly scratches the surface of the issue. Unfortunately, though this bill addresses fentanyl usage on a small level, it does little to get to the root of the problem that has been ripping through our state.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin, 100 times stronger than morphine, and the cause of over 1,200 overdoses in Minnesota. Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 22% increase in overdose deaths, many of which have been attributed to fentanyl use. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, that averages to more than three people dying every day from a drug overdose. Yet under state law, it takes 10 grams of fentanyl to receive third degree possession charges, and 50 grams of fentanyl to receive second degree possession charges.
If we are serious about cracking down on the fentanyl epidemic, we should drop the possession allotment drastically. In fact, just 2 milligrams could be enough to kill a person. I was a strong supporter of an amendment that would have reflected the same thresholds for fentanyl as used for heroin in both second and third degree possession, which are 6 grams and 3 grams respectively. The severity and dangerous nature of this drug make it worth the higher sentences. But did we see the amendment adopted? Of course not. Because Democrats have no interest in changing their bills for the better.
Aside from completely overlooking the fentanyl crisis, this bill also allows 92% of the prison population to be eligible for release through the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act (MRRA). Convicted criminals already have shorter sentences — they typically only spend two thirds of their time in incarceration, and the rest of the sentence is served on supervised release. The MRRA further reduces the amount of incarceration time to one-half of the sentence. Minnesota is already a low incarceration state — we have about 8,000 prisoners statewide. This part of the bill makes 7,400 prisoners eligible for early release. We are talking about people who have committed manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, assault, or domestic assault. This is appalling.
Overall, this is a horrific bill that does nothing to make our communities safer. It is laughable that Democrats forced through this bill under the term “public safety,” when it ensures the opposite. People deserve to feel safe in their communities, and they should know that we’re taking rising crime rates and fentanyl addiction seriously. Unfortunately, this bill shows the total opposite, and only shows that Senate Democrats are exceptionally out of touch with the needs of families across the state.
Nathan Wesenberg represents District 10 in the Minnesota Senate.