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Senate committee advances hardening of state drug distribution laws

Fentanyl seized during a traffic stop in Roberts County in 2022.
Roberts County Sheriff's Office
Fentanyl seized during a traffic stop on the Lake Traverse reservation on Nov. 26, 2022.

Senate Bill 6, which would harden the state’s drug distribution laws in the event of a fatal overdose, has advanced from the Judiciary Committee.

Specifically, the bill would raise the penalties for dealers of schedule one or two drugs if a fatality is involved to a class two felony. If that substance is fentanyl, that person would be face class one charges - which is punishable by life imprisonment.

Huron Republican Sen. David Wheeler said it was an intentional decision to single out fentanyl.

“By enhancing this a further classification – to Class 1 – we’re sending a message to distributors that if you are doing this, if you are using fentanyl and contributing to the deaths being caused by fentanyl overdoses, we are going to punish you more severely than other drug distributors," Wheeler said.

There was opposition to the bill, namely focused on the significant jump in classification and the burden of proof. That included the possibility lower-level dealers who aren’t aware of what’s in their supply could be implicated.

Supporters countered that argument by laying out  the availability of drug testing kits for the general public.

The bill passed committee unanimously.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture