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Proposal requests stricter punishment for fentanyl dealers

LANCASTER, P.A. --- Mark Bergstrom, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, said it all started with a request from the Allegheny County District Attorney's office and medical examiner.

As fentanyl related overdoses continue to increase around the commonwealth, Bergstrom said they asked the commission to consider harsher penalties for fentanyl dealers.

"They made a pretty persuasive case and others who testified about just how deadly fentanyl has become," said Bergstrom.

In light of that request, the commission is putting together an official proposal.

Currently, fentanyl is viewed equally to heroin, sentence-wise, mandating a minimum sentence of three months to a maximum of twelve months in county jail for manufacturing or selling less than one gram.

Bergstrom said the new proposal would make distributing or manufacturing less than one gram of fentanyl carry a minimum sentence of 12 to a maximum of 24 months in state prison.

"For larger quantities, it would call for longer periods of confinement in state prison that would otherwise be recommended for heroin," said Bergstrom.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman endorses the proposal, saying the current penalties for dealers do not fit the crime.

"Drug dealers are making more money, killing more people. The penalties are actually far far less than what they were just a few years ago," said Stedman.

Stedman said the idea behind stronger penalties is making a greater cost for a dealer running a "business."

"You want to make the penalty severe enough that you're driving them out of business. And if you're not, even if they're willing to come back to do it, by having increase sentences, it incapacitates them," said Stedman.

He also said higher sentences aren't targeting addicts or users, they say they want stricter punishment for those who bring fentanyl into communities.

"We're talking about the dealers of fentanyl. People that are making money off of other peoples addictions and other peoples deaths, quite frankly," said Stedman.

Bergstrom said the Commission on Sentencing hopes to have a proposal published in the Pennsylvania bulletin by the end of the month.

Once it's published, the general assembly has 90 days to review and reject the proposal.

Bergstrom said the soonest the new sentencing would go into effect would be late March, early April 2018.