The Maryland Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would target the lethal synthetic opioid fentanyl. To do so, they completely rewrote a bill proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan that would have imposed lengthy prison sentences on drug dealers who dole out deadly doses of heroin.
The bill would now impose up to an additional 10 years of prison time on dealers convicted of supplying fentantyl. It cleared the Senate on a 46-1 vote.
Hogan's original proposal was to create 30-year maximum sentences for dealers who supply any opioid that causes a fatal overdose. It was part of a package of measures that the Republican governor proposed to deal with Maryland's worsening heroin overdose crisis, an epidemic that final figures are expected to show caused 2,000 deaths last year.
Fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin without a user realizing, is blamed for the lion's share of those deaths.
In some ways, the Senate's version of the bill is broader because it penalizes any drug dealing, not just a transaction that ends with someone dying. But it also narrows the measure to just cover fentanyl and includes a lesser maximum penalty.
Prosecutors would have to show that dealers knowingly sold fentanyl to secure the additional prison time.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the bill as it passed the Senate was better than nothing.
"Clearly this is not as strong of a measure as we want," he said. "The governor's proposal was about sending a message to these people that you are responsible for the deaths you cause."
A version of the bill in the House of Delegates has yet to advance beyond a committee hearing.