West Virginia Senate enhances drug penalties to felony

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make it a felony to possess fentanyl and some other illegal drugs in the opioid-ravaged state.

The bill passed on a 32-1 vote and now goes before the House of Delegates. The regular session ends March 11.

Republican Sen. Charles Trump, of Morgan County, said the idea behind enhancing penalties for drug possession from a misdemeanor is to move those cases from magistrate court to circuit court, where there are more resources and programs available, including drug treatment courts and supervised probation.

Besides fentanyl, the drugs designated in the bill are heroin, cocaine, PCP, LSD and methamphetamine.

“Our magistrates don’t have the same tools available to them to deal with people with bad drug habits that the circuit courts do,” Trump said.

Since 2000, West Virginia has had by far the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the nation. Substance abuse in West Virginia over the past two decades also drove a huge increase in foster placements. There are more than 6,500 children in foster care in the state, with most living with grandparents, other relatives or close friends.

More than half the states since 2021 have at least considered legislation aimed at stemming the toll of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill last year that increased penalties for fentanyl distribution to a prison term of three to 15 years upon conviction as well as a term of 10 to 20 years for transporting fentanyl into West Virginia from out of state. The bill passed Monday would increase fentanyl and other drug-related prison terms even more.

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