HB 68: Mandatory Prison for Drug Distribution with a Firearm
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Imagine this scenario: you are a lawful firearm owner who breaks a drug law. Let’s say you’re using cannabis illegally. That drug use could get you slapped with a misdemeanor. But the fact that you have a gun as well means that you can also get charged with a felony.
Utah law makes it a felony for a firearm owner to be “an unlawful user of a controlled substance.” So if you’re using your spouse’s prescription drug without a prescription of your own, then your otherwise lawful gun ownership turns you into an immediate felon.
There’s no due process. You don’t first get charged with a drug crime, and only then are you on notice against having a gun. The very fact that you are in possession of a gun while also breaking a totally separate law brands you as a de facto felon.
We have (unsuccessfully) tried to amend this law in past years. This session, there is a bill that makes it even worse. House Bill 68, sponsored by Representative Andrew Stoddard, adds mandatory prison time into the mix.
The bill states that anyone guilty of a 1st or 2nd degree felony for distributing drugs, or possessing them with the intent to distribute them, and who also possessed a firearm while engaged in the activity, is mandatorily sentenced to a prison term of at least one year for a 2nd degree felony, and at least five years for a first degree felony.
You might think that this is only reserved for the cartels and other gansters spreading fentanyl and other drugs around our communities. After all, 1st and 2nd degree felonies are the highest levels of crime!
You would be wrong. Another example: all over Utah, people are using psilocybin to treat their mental health conditions. This is “magic mushrooms” and it is a Schedule I drug. Current Utah law states that “a person convicted of [distributing]… a substance… classified in Schedule I or II… is guilty of a second degree felony.” And if they’ve previously been convicted, then all future convictions for the same behavior are a first degree felony.
Thus, everyone using psilocybin (and there are many, many thousands in Utah—otherwise upstanding, law-abiding, peaceful and productive members of our community). are felons. And now, under HB 68, if any of them are sharing (distributing) a psychoactive mushroom while possessing a weapon, they would be mandatorily sentenced to prison.
It’s also important to note that this bill applies not just to distribution, but possession “with the intent” to distribute. Even if prosecutors don’t have evidence of actual distribution, you could still go to prison if they simply argue that the amount of drugs in your possession is enough to make it appear that you might be giving (or selling) some to another person. No actual distribution needs to happen—and, under this bill, you’d still be going to prison.
This is a horribly punitive approach to the issue of illegal drugs. Countless Utahns own firearms for lawful self-defense while also choosing, for various reasons, to disobey the arcane and inhumane drug laws currently in place. These people should not be classified as felons outright, and they should not be mandatorily sent to prison.