HomeOregon NewsOregon lawmakers propose amendments to drug decriminalization measure in response to overdose...

Oregon lawmakers propose amendments to drug decriminalization measure in response to overdose crisis

Oregon – As the 2024 legislative session is set to begin on Monday, a significant shift is on the horizon for Oregon’s approach to drug policy. Despite the push from recovery service providers to maintain the status quo, both Democrat and Republican lawmakers are united in their intention to reconsider the decriminalization of drugs—a policy that has placed Oregon at the forefront of a national conversation about drug reform.

A Reassessment of Drug Decriminalization

Oregon’s pioneering approach to drug decriminalization, encapsulated in Measure 110, is facing potential rollbacks. Enacted nearly three years ago, Measure 110 marked Oregon as the first state to decriminalize the possession of hard drugs, redirecting marijuana tax revenues towards substance use treatment. However, the effectiveness of this policy is now under scrutiny amidst rising overdose rates and public dissatisfaction.

A significant portion of Oregonians seem ready for change. A survey revealed that 56% of participants favor repealing Measure 110, with 64% supporting the reintroduction of criminal charges for drug possession. This sentiment aligns with concerns over Oregon’s overdose deaths, which nearly reached 1,000 in 2022, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

Critics argue that Measure 110 has fallen short in motivating drug users to seek treatment. With the current system allowing individuals caught with drugs to dismiss a $100 citation by undergoing an addiction screening, state auditors found that only 1% of those cited took advantage of this option.

The recent declaration of a fentanyl state of emergency by Gov. Tina Kotek, along with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, underscores the urgency of addressing drug addiction, particularly the fentanyl crisis. A command center has been established to coordinate resources and support for individuals addicted to fentanyl, highlighting the drug’s devastating impact.

Check also: Oregon needs 3,000 more people and 8,000 more beds to meet mental health and addiction treatment needs

The Debate Over Measure 110’s Impact

Contrary to the narrative that decriminalization has exacerbated overdose rates, researchers maintain that there is no direct correlation. Studies, including one from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, indicate that the increase in drug overdoses, particularly from fentanyl, is a broader national issue, not uniquely tied to Measure 110. This perspective suggests that the rise in overdoses is part of a larger epidemic, with fentanyl’s introduction into various states, including Oregon, playing a significant role.

Despite these findings, Oregon lawmakers are considering legislative changes to address public and law enforcement concerns. The proposals on the table range from reintroducing criminal charges for drug possession to enhancing penalties for drug dealers, particularly in sensitive areas like public parks and near treatment centers.

Legislative Proposals on the Horizon

Two key proposals illustrate the diverging approaches to reforming Measure 110. House Bill 4002, supported by Democratic lawmakers, seeks to classify drug possession as a Class C misdemeanor, coupled with an emphasis on treatment before prosecution. Meanwhile, Republican legislators are pushing for more stringent measures through Senate Bill 1555 and Senate Bill 1588, proposing to make drug possession a Class A misdemeanor with stricter penalties for public use and drug dealing.

These legislative efforts reflect a complex debate over the best path forward to combat drug addiction and its societal impacts. While some argue for a return to more traditional law enforcement tools, others caution against abandoning a treatment-focused approach. Governor Kotek has called for a comprehensive package that balances criminalization with an emphasis on treatment and resources.

As Oregon stands at a crossroads, the outcome of this legislative session could redefine the state’s approach to drug policy, with implications for treatment accessibility, public safety, and the overall effectiveness of drug decriminalization as a strategy to combat addiction.

Booker Whitfield


Most Popular