The Massachusetts House early Wednesday afternoon gave initial approval to legislation (H 3755) establishing the crime of fentanyl trafficking.
"Right now there's not a crime relative to trafficking so we need to get that on our books and that's what we're doing today," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters after a closed caucus with House Democrats.
At the caucus, House members expressed "curiosity" about when there would be a discussion of mandatory minimum sentences, according to DeLeo, who said he's waiting for feedback from a Council of State Governments study before assessing which crimes should carry mandatory minimums.
The fentanyl trafficking bill states that anyone who trafficks in fentanyl, or any of its derivatives, in a net weight of more than 10 grams shall face a prison term of "not more than 20 years."
DeLeo said he hoped the threat of a long prison sentence would deter potential drug traffickers.
Fentanyl is a powerful opiate that has some medical applications but is also manufactured and sold by drug dealers.
In August, Attorney General Maura Healey said drug cartels had "figured out a way to manufacture fentanyl and they're sending it out into our streets," She said, "Many heroin users don't even know that the drugs that they're using contain fentanyl. It looks just like heroin. It's killing people. It's hurting people."
According to State Police Superintendent Col. Richard McKeon, the state's drug lab detected five cases of fentanyl in 2013, 170 cases in 2014 and 473 cases of drugs with fentanyl so far this year.
A vote to ship the bill to the Senate appears likely later Wednesday. Lawmakers face at least two amendments to the bill - a Rep. David Vieira proposal governing protective custody for individuals incapacitated by drug overdoses and a Rep. Timothy Whelan amendment adding to the bill mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking various amounts of fentanyl.