Wyoming Freedom Caucus, House Democrats Kill Bill To Charge Drug Dealers For Adult OD Deaths

In a rare union, Wyoming House Democrats and the Freedom Caucus teamed up to kill a bill that would have allowed charging drug dealers whose customers die from overdose with manslaughter.

Clair McFarland

March 06, 20233 min read

Bear and provenza 3 6 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

In a rare union, Wyoming House of Representatives Democrats and many Freedom Caucus members teamed up to kill a bill that would have allowed charging drug dealers whose customers from overdose with manslaughter.

Had it passed, Senate File 181 would have made a new penalty in Wyoming law allowing prosecutors to charge methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl dealers with manslaughter when their customers die of overdose.  

The state already has a manslaughter charging option for all drug dealers when they sell drugs to kids who then die by overdose. But there’s no manslaughter option when the victim is an adult.  

Wyoming Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told Cowboy State Daily that SF 181 cast “a wider net” than he was willing to pass with his vote. Bear and many other Wyoming Freedom Caucus members voted against the legislation on its final reading, as did all five Democrats in the state House.  

The Freedom Caucus is a group of Republicans who endorse state laws confronting social issues and who generally are minimalistic about government funding and services.  

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to determine that one person is responsible (for the death) other than the person who took the drugs,” said Bear. “How does a dealer control how much drugs someone takes? And how do you hold them responsible for that?”  

Bear said that generally, however, he supports stiffer penalties for drug charges.  


Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, voiced similar concerns during an earlier committee hearing on the bill.  

“It seems pretty broad,” she said. “I’m trying to understand how this is just getting kingpins, or this is just getting drug dealers who are maybe knowingly doing this.”  

Provenza said she was worried that family members and friends passing drugs around at parties would face manslaughter charges if the law passed.  


Bill sponsor Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, told the House Judiciary Committee last month that she brought SF 181 because her community, with an interstate highway running through it, has become a drug “pipeline.”  

“We’re seeing more and more issues with drug deaths,” said Schuler.

She also said she’d heard emotional stories by recovering drug addicts who’ve urged her to try to keep drugs from getting to high schools and communities.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter