South Carolina

SC House passes bill to criminalize fentanyl trafficking

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Lawmakers are accelerating a push to criminalize the fentanyl trade in South Carolina, where it is not currently a law.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed that bill in a second reading by a vote of 96 to 21, essentially passing it, with a cursory third reading vote scheduled for Thursday.

“We did something today that lets these traffickers and traffickers know that South Carolina is doing something about fentanyl coming into South Carolina and killing our children,” Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Horry, told reporters after the vote.

Under the law, persons convicted for the first time of possessing at least four grams of fentanyl-containing drugs face a minimum of seven years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Those caught with larger amounts could face up to 40 years behind bars and face a $200,000 fine.

“This is the top level. This is not a kid on a pill. That’s 40 pills, 60 pills, 80 pills, 100 – that’s a significant weight of what is probably the most dangerous chemical we’ve seen,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope, R – York.

Republicans unanimously supported passage of the bill, and many of them gathered at a post-vote press conference in the antechamber of the House of Representatives and sided with the caucus leadership as they celebrated moving the legislation forward.

“We must ensure that those dealing in drugs and fentanyl that harm the children of this state are dealt with harshly and quickly,” said House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.

However, some Democrats have argued that this bill would create more problems than it solves, claiming that mandatory minimum sentences are not proven to deter people from trafficking and using drugs.

“A person should be allowed to go before a judge and say, ‘Judge, I have no criminal record. Judge, I’m not violent. I’ve never hurt anyone. I’ve never been in trouble in my entire life. I thought I had seven Xanax pills,” said Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland, during Wednesday’s debate.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford argued this bill should have distinguished between pills containing fentanyl, which people with substance use disorders can possess without knowing they contain fentanyl, and fentanyl powder, which he believed would flag criminals associated with the drug act drug.

“We need to distinguish between those individuals who are unduly involved in this process and the traffickers,” Rutherford said. “I’m after the dealers. You are not. What they’re looking for is a bumper sticker, and until we stop the bumper sticker policy, until we turn to the science and data to tell us what makes a difference, in this case, all we’re doing is putting lives at risk.”

In a tweet sent out after Wednesday’s vote in the House of Representatives, Gov. Henry McMaster said he hopes that legislation will reach his desk soon so he can sign it into law, which he says is “a clear, unified.” message to criminals distributing fentanyl: If you are caught introducing this poison into our communities, you will spend a very long time behind bars.”

Bills to criminalize fentanyl trafficking, including mandatory minimum sentences, and to bring charges of fentanyl-induced homicide were both tabled Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, so they now await Senate debate.

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