Senate Judiciary Committee votes to strengthen penalties for trafficking fentanyl and its derivatives

Gov. Lee outlines public safety initiatives in State of the State / Budget Address

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week strengthening penalties for possessing or trafficking fentanyl, carfentanil, sufentanil, remifentanil, or any analogues, mirroring the same weights used to define punishments for heroin.  Senate Bill 798 makes it a Class B felony to knowingly manufacture, deliver or sell 15 grams or more of these substances, while penalties would be punishable as a Class A felony if it involves 150 grams or more.   

The legislation is part of Governor Bill Lee’s public safety package announced this week in his State of State / Budget Address.  Currently, the threshold for a Class A felony for fentanyl is 2,000 grams.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.  It is used before surgery as an adjunct to anesthesia and in some cases for acute pain, like advanced cancer.  It is commonly mixed with other illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine and counterfeit prescription opioids.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health (DOH), fentanyl, when mixed with heroin or other drugs, is a leading cause of opioid deaths in Tennessee. 

In other public safety news, Governor Lee outlined plans to tackle criminal justice reform during his State of the State / Budget Address on Monday.  His plan includes:

  • Supplementing mental health efforts by expanding the recovery court system and programming
  • Expanding higher education programming for incarcerated individuals;
  • Establishing the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force to make communities safer by reducing recidivism through proposed legislative and budgetary changes;
  • Launching the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative to partner incarcerated individuals who are working toward obtaining higher education with a mentor;
  • Increasing funding to the Electronic Monitoring Indigency fund to use GPS monitoring of low-risk, non-violent individuals instead of incarceration; and
  • Eliminating the $180 state expungement fee;

Senate Bill 797, which eliminates the burdensome $180 expungement fee associated with clearing records of certain criminal charges advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Individuals with clear records are much more likely to secure employment and stable housing instead of re-entering prison.

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