(The Center Square) – With drug overdose deaths on the rise in Virginia in recent years, lawmakers in both the House and Senate Friday agreed to a measure designating fentanyl as a “weapon of terrorism” and increasing penalties on those who knowingly and intentionally distribute or manufacture it.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted in favor of advancing Senate Bill 1188 Friday – a measure that defines any mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl as a “weapon of terrorism.”
The bill also specifies anyone who “knowingly and intentionally” manufactures or distributes a substance with a detectable amount of fentanyl is guilty of a Class 4 felony – a charge that carries a sentence of two to 10 years, and a fine of up to $100,000. That charge would come on top of the felony charge associated with distributing a Schedule I or Schedule II drug, which can carry up to a 40-year sentence.
Fatal drug overdose has been the leading cause of “unnatural death” in Virginia since 2013, according to the Virginia Department of Health. In 2021, more than 2,600 Virginians died from fatal drug overdoses. Of those, the department estimates 76% were caused by fentanyl.
The author of SB 1188, Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, shared in a committee hearing last month his daughter’s fiancé died of a fentanyl overdose.
“This has affected more families than you’ll ever imagine,” Reeves said. “I’m tired of seeing people die.”
Some Democratic lawmakers had initially raised concern that Reeves’ measure could end up charging users and addicts. During a Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, raised concern the original version of Reeves’ bill – which would have placed penalties on individuals who gave or distributed a “weapon of terrorism” – would “capture too many people we don’t want to capture.”
The bill was amended in committee in January to specify the measure would apply to individuals who “knowingly and intentionally” distribute or manufacture the substance. That language remained in the bill as it wove through the General Assembly.
A conference report on Reeves’ bill was agreed to by both the House and Senate Friday. After passage, the legislation will head next to Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Youngkin’s administration had initially supported legislation this session to charge individuals who distribute drugs with felony homicide if it resulted in an overdose. Two similar bills that would enact these charges were defeated by Senate Democrats earlier in the session.