BY FREDA MIKLIN
On September 17, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and SD31 Sen. Chris Hansen held a town hall at the Eisenhower Chapel in Denver’s Lowry neighborhood. Hansen’s district includes southeast Denver, as well as Glendale and Holly Hills in Arapahoe County.
Weiser told the crowd of approximately 100 that his priority is protecting the rights of all Coloradans, including voting rights and consumer rights. Through the efforts of his office, he said, he has brought Coloradans $230 million by prosecuting consumer fraud and $520 million from big pharma companies who manufactured and sold opioids.
When an audience member asked Weiser about a bill passed by the legislature this year on the subject of fentanyl, he explained, “The opioid crisis in the United States of America (came from) companies making money by getting people addicted to dangerous drugs. What Purdue Pharma did is unconscionable. I went after them, along with McKinsey, Johnson & Johnson, and others, and that’s where the $520 million is coming from…Over this 25-year history, everyone here probably knows somebody who has gone through this struggle, maybe starting with pills for back pain…Now these drug cartels are pushing heroin, which became cheaper and more accessible than prescription pills. Then came the second wave. Over the last five years, increasingly, what we’re seeing is fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid made in a lab. It is 50 times more potent than heroin. We are seeing two threats. First, it’s being packaged like it’s a prescription pill like Xanax. Moms who have lost kids have told me that their children thought they were taking Xanax to help them sleep.”
He continued, “Two out of five of those counterfeit pills are deadly. That’s not really a drug overdose. That is fentanyl poisoning, and there are people knowingly selling those fentanyl-based pills that kill people. We’ve got to find a way to hold them accountable and do something about it.” He described the bill that was passed in the general assembly in 2022 as 1) containing funding for educational awareness to get the word out to young people “who think that they are invincible,” to let them know that, “if you take a pill that you get at a party, it could kill you,” adding, “2) We’ve got to get Narcan available everywhere so that if someone starts overdosing, we can save their life. 3) We have to get more treatment resources to save lives. 4) We’ve got to go after these drug dealers and hold them accountable. That’s why I supported the law that says if you distribute fentanyl and it results in someone dying, that is now a new criminal offense.” He explained that the new law also changed the possession level of fentanyl to make sure that dealers are charged with a felony, whereas the focus for users is treatment.
Hansen, who is vice-chair of the Joint Budget Committee of the legislature, talked about Colorado Proposition 121, which would lower the state income tax rate from 4.55% to 4.40%, thereby “taking more money out of K-12 and higher education because that is where the marginal dollar is in our state budget.” He also noted that it would give the average Colorado family an additional $68 but give $1,500 to someone who earns $1 million, which he said seemed like a bad reason to take resources away from K-12 and higher education.
Hansen also pointed to “two bills passed in the last two sessions (of the general assembly) that provide targeted property tax relief to homeowners across the state,” noting that lawmakers are “very aware of the appreciation (of home prices) that we’re all seeing in the market right now…that leads to higher property taxes.”
Weiser talked about the importance of helping local police departments recruit more officers and addressing climate change by building water infrastructure to store more water and allow less evaporation. He said water could also be saved through increased xeriscaping, shifting to different agricultural crops and using “gray (non-potable) water” for toilets and other uses that don’t require drinkable water.
In response to a question from a citizen, Weiser said he supports banning assault rifles, which he called “weapons of war,” explaining that, “Gun safety is a public health challenge that we need to think about like car safety.”
In the area of consumer fraud, Weiser said that his office got $8 million back for consumers from Century Link when they raised prices on their services after promising that prices were “guaranteed to be locked.” He said his office also got consumers $9.5 million from Wells Fargo and $2 million from Turbotax for consumer fraud.
Regarding public safety, Weiser explained that the attorney general’s office only handles complex criminal prosecutions. He noted the recent conviction his office obtained in Larimer County of a home burglary ring that targeted 26 Asian business owners in Colorado and Wyoming and resulted in indictments on 46 counts and guilty pleas for violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act as well as felony theft.
We asked Weiser about the significant rise in car thefts in Colorado. He told us that criminal cases of car theft are generally the purview of local prosecutors but he worked to help pass the Recertification and Theft of Catalytic Converter Act of 2022 that requires businesses and individuals who purchase detached catalytic converters to keep a record of the name of the person from whom the catalytic converter was purchased and the type of identification the seller presented. The buyer must also obtain a signed affidavit from the seller attesting that he or she legally owned the item sold.
Hansen is rumored to be considering a run for Denver mayor next year. We asked him about that. He just smiled.