JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers on Wednesday moved to enact strict penalties for people caught with the highly lethal opioid fentanyl.
The House gave the bill initial approval in a voice vote.
If passed, the bill would add fentanyl and two substances sometimes used to commit rape to Missouri's drug laws.
Fentanyl is already federally listed as a controlled substance. Republican bill sponsor Rep. Nick Schroer said banning its misuse under state law will give local prosecutors more tools to convict people who sell the deadly opioid.
Under the bill, selling or trying to sell more than 10 milligrams of fentanyl would be punishable by five to 15 years in prison. Those convicted of trying to sell 20 milligrams or more of the drug would face 10 to 30 years in prison.
Possessing or trying to buy more than 10 milligrams of fentanyl would mean up to seven years in prison or five to 15 years behind bars for 20 milligrams or more.
Bipartisan critics questioned whether long prison sentences would be effective in deterring drug sales and fighting the opioid epidemic.
St. Louis Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth raised concerns that the law could mean lifelong prison sentences for people struggling with addiction.