Police, lawmakers calling for Ohio law to play catch up with heroin/fentanyl epidemic

Posted at 6:20 PM, Aug 31, 2016

Police, prosecutors and lawmakers in Northeast Ohio are calling for the state’s drug possession sentencing guidelines to play catch-up with the state's growing heroin and fentanyl epidemic. 

The law currently places higher penalties on smaller amounts of cocaine that heroin. Possession of over 27 grams of cocaine can result in a first-degree felony, with a penalty of 3-10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The same amount of heroin qualifies as a second-degree felony, with a penalty of 2-8 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. 

For heroin possession, first-degree felonies require 50 grams or more. 

Former narcotics detective Tim Dimoff tells that’s because the potency of heroin has drastically changed in the last 25 years. 

“They need to catch up on the heroin and we need to match it to the cocaine laws, because heroin now has that same potency, if not higher,” Dimoff explained. 

Senator Frank LaRose (R-Dist. 27) tells that the fentanyl laws don’t match up either. 

Current law only allows dealers to be charged with first-degree felonies if the fentanyl is in a medical-grade dosage form, not the myriad number of compounds and combinations that have surfaced in recent months. 

“So when it’s a compound, fentanyl for example mixed with heroin, we want to make sure that the penalties are there such that it’s a felony,” LaRose said. 

He authored Senate Bill 237, introduced in October and referred to the Criminal Justice Committee in November. The bill would better define a “bulk amount” of fentanyl to include a compound, mixture, preparation, or substance that contains any amount of fentanyl. 

LaRose said he’s careful to distinguish drug dealers from their clients when advocating for enhanced sentencing. 

“Jail is for the traffickers, treatment is for the addicts,” he said. 

LeRose said he’s hopeful that his bill will be passed this year or incorporated into an existing bill that addresses the growing problem.