Alaska House passes bill to increase jail time for fentanyl and other drug crimes

A man in a gray suit speaks into a microphone
Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, speaks in favor of a bill that would increase the penalties for certain drug offenses. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House passed a bill Thursday that would increase penalties for people who distribute fentanyl, other opioids and methamphetamine. It would also increase the penalties for people who distribute a broad class of drugs to teenagers and to mentally incapacitated people. 

The legislation comes as overdose deaths related to fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid — surge in Alaska. According to the state health department, 145 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2021. That’s a more than 400% increase in four years. 

Some legislators, including Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, spoke passionately about the need to increase penalties for drug dealers. 

“If individuals come in to our state and want to distribute a substance as deadly as fentanyl and somebody dies, prison is where they deserve to be,” he said. 

The bill approved by the House was initially introduced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration. It says a person can be charged with second-degree murder if they distribute opioids including fentanyl and methamphetamine that result in someone dying of an overdose. The maximum prison sentence would be 99 years. Previously, it was considered manslaughter. 

Some legislators argued the bill was too broad, since the penalties for distribution would also apply to drugs other than fentanyl, such as oxycodone, which is more common. Rep. Jennifer Armstrong, D-Anchorage, said there’s no evidence that stricter jail sentences reduce overdoses. 

“Drug-induced homicide prosecutions have significant unintended consequences by deterring people from calling 911 when they witness an overdose for fear of being found in some way complicit,” she told the House. 

Research by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that stricter drug laws don’t have any effect on drug use or overdoses. 

The plan to ramp up penalties for distributing drugs to people under 19 and mentally incapacitated people also drew criticism, since it includes a wide array of drugs — classified by the state as Schedule IA to IVA — some of which are commonly used like Adderall or non-addictive drugs like psychedelic mushrooms. People can now face a felony charge for distributing any of the drugs in that category. 

The bill ultimately passed by a 35-5 vote, with most Republicans and some Democrats voting in favor of the bill. It now goes to the Senate, with less than a week left in the legislative session. 

Lex Treinen

Lex Treinen is covering the state Legislature for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at

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