LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced steps her administration is taking to increase illegal drug enforcement and prosecution.
Gov. Sanders announced legislation that will be introduced in this current legislative session, and the appointment of a new state drug director to oversee drug-crime enforcement. Attorney General Tim Griffin, Arkansas Sen. Ben Gilmore and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway joined Sanders for the announcement.
Gilmore and Gazaway were sponsoring legislation that would increase penalties for drug dealers.
“When the legislature passes this bill, I will sign in,” Sanders said.
The bill would increase penalties for drugs and drug-related crime, with an emphasis on opioid-centered drug crime.
“Arkansas will charge drug dealers with murder if they deliver drugs which cause an overdose,” Sanders said. “For the most heinous drug dealers, those who traffic fentanyl to children, we will charge them with life in prison. And for anyone caught trafficking fentanyl, the deadliest drug on our streets today, Arkansas will put you in jail for 25 to 60 years and impose a mandatory million-dollar fine.”
Sanders defended the legislation against anyone who felt the terms were too harsh.
“To anyone who claims these new penalties are too harsh, I want you to listen to me and hear me now: Allowing unrepentant murderers to stalk our streets is not compassionate,” she said. “It’s foolish, it’s dangerous, and under my leadership and administration it will end.”
Sanders continued and introduced who she called “Arkansas’s newest drug czar,” Tom Fisher. Fisher is charged with coordinating the state’s illicit drug response strategy, she said.
Fisher’s qualifications include his service of 25 years with the DEA. Fisher began with the DEA as an agent and went on to become a supervisor who coordinated all DEA investigations in Arkansas, Sanders said, adding that Fisher’s law enforcement career began as a Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
“I’m excited and thankful for Tom’s leadership and have him working in my administration in such a critical issue,” Sanders said.
Fisher said he had been with the DEA in Arkansas for 17 years. He was “excited for the opportunity” to serve as state drug director, he said.
Attorney General Tim Griffin said the advantage he saw to the forthcoming legislation was its flexibility going forward.
Griffin detailed how enforcement against methamphetamine began with small scale operators making the drug using over-the-counter ingredients. As enforcement increased it led to more sophisticated ingredients and larger-scale producers who created what Griffin called “super meth.”
The same path is being seen as opioid enforcement moving the source from illegally prescribed drugs to counterfeit fentanyl being produced “south of the border” using China-sourced ingredients, Griffin said, adding “and they [the producers] don’t care if you live or die.”
“One of the really good things about this bill is that the next fentanyl that’s currently not scheduled, that we don’t know about, then that can be included in addition to fentanyl and the super drugs,” Griffin said. “This is going to make a real difference in Arkansas.”
During questions, Sanders said this proposed bill was separate from the forthcoming omnibus crime bill expected later in the current legislative session.
“We got a busy session ahead,” the governor said.
The drug crime legislation announced today is expected to be introduced in the legislature “in the coming weeks,” she said.