Two alleged drug traffickers arrested for possessing 150,000 illegal fentanyl pills during a California traffic stop were released from custody just one day later, officials said. 

Jose Zendejas, 25, and Benito Madrigal, 19, both from Washington, were booked at the Tulare County Pre-Trial Facility after being busted with $750,000 worth of fentanyl pills. 

The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office issued an update on Monday announcing the two had been released from custody a day after their arrest on Saturday – following a court order.

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux ‘strongly disagrees’ with the order to release the two men, arguing it is a public safety issue. He had no say in the court order and was forced to comply. 

The two men were booked at the Tulare County Pre-Trial Facility and released the next day after a court order was issued

‘All inmates booked into Tulare County jails are sent through what is known as the Risk Assessment Process through the Tulare County Probation Department,’ police said. That “Risk Assessment” is then sent to a judge with the court, who then determines whether or not the individual arrested is held on bail or if they are to be released.

County commissioner Mikki Verissimo, who reports to the judge of the Tulare County Superior Court, conducted the risk assessment and deemed the two fit for release.

Tulare’s District Attorney Tim Ward hasn’t commented on the release, but his office says they weren’t a part of the decision process by the Tulare County Probation Department. 

The two men will return to court on July 21, where a judge will determine their charges, according to the DA’s office. 

Officers found the two in possession of 150,000 illegal fentanyl pills

The pair are both from Washington state, but were driving through California at the time of their arrest

Jose Zendejas, 25, and Benito Madrigal, 19, were arrested in California for possession of $750,000 worth of fentanyl pills 

The potent drug that is stronger than heroin and morphine is a major contributor to fatal overdoses throughout the state, according to the California Department of Public Health.   

Fentanyl related deaths ‘increased at an unpredictable pace in 2020’ with 3,946 overdoses – according to the latest data from the CDPH. 

Fentanyl is currently classified as a Schedule II drug that has a ‘high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence,’ according to the U.S. Department of Justice

Currently in the state, the possession of fentanyl is a mere misdemeanor offense. 

Fentanyl deaths have increased substantially in 2020, the California Department of Public Health says

Fentanyl deaths have increased substantially in 2020, the California Department of Public Health says

What is fentanyl and why is it so dangerous?

Fentanyl was originally developed in Belgium in the 1950s to aid cancer patients with their pain management. 

Given its extreme potency it has become popular amongst recreational drug users. 

Overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl jumped from nearly 10,000 in 2015 to nearly 20,000 in 2016 – surpassing common opioid painkillers and heroin for the first time. 

And drug overdoses killed more than 72,000 people in the US in 2017 – a record driven by fentanyl. 

It is often added to heroin because it creates the same high as the drug, with the effects biologically identical. But it can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to officials in the US. 

In America, fentanyl is classified as a schedule II drug – indicating it has a strong potential to be abused and can create psychological and physical dependence. 

California lawmakers have been warning against the deadly fentanyl crisis that has been poisoning young people throughout the state and calling for harsher penalties.

Earlier this year in April, some state lawmakers attempted to pass legislation to establish possession of two or more grams of fentanyl to be a felony. In the same bill, lawmakers proposed reclassifying fentanyl as a Schedule I drug alongside meth and heroin – but failed. 

If passed, traffickers would have spent 20 years to life in prison for distributing fentanyl that results in death.  

Both Republicans and Democrats have attempted to combat the fentanyl crisis – but some of their peers argue that harsher penalties are not the solution.  

Several California District Attorneys have come under fire for their soft on crime policies. 

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon, who pledged to find a different approach to incarceration when he was voted into office in 2020, is now facing his second recall. 

Gascon has issued various criminal justice reforms that have led to consequences for some crime victims. When Gascon took office in 2020, he changed prosecution rules, including getting rid of sentence enhancements for guns and gangs. The DA also barred prosecutors from charging juveniles as adults.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva – who has been an ongoing critic of Gascon – blames him for the uproar in violent crime. 

Villanueva claims his office has presented over 13,000 cases to the DAs office that were rejected because they don’t fit Gascon’s crime policies, Fox News reported.

In Northern California, San Francisco’s progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled in early June after crime spiked in the city. 

This year, statistics show that the crime wave has worsened from last year – one of the worst crime years in decades – with city’s murder rate rising 11 percent, and rapes up by nearly 10 percent.  

The city has also suffered from an increase in homelessness and open-air drug use since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

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