Oregon lawmakers vote to overturn drug decriminalization law

Oregon lawmakers vote

Oregon’s landmark drug decriminalization law, which was approved by voters in 2020, is facing a major rollback after the state legislature passed a bill that would reinstate criminal penalties for the possession of some drugs. The bill, which was supported by both Democrats and Republicans, now awaits the signature of Governor Tina Kotek, who has indicated she is open to the change.

Why did Oregon decriminalize drugs?

In November 2020, Oregon became the first state in the US to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, with the passage of Measure 110. The measure was backed by a coalition of health, civil rights, and criminal justice reform groups, who argued that drug addiction should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal one. The measure also redirected some of the state’s marijuana tax revenue to fund drug treatment and harm reduction programs.

The proponents of Measure 110 claimed that decriminalization would reduce the stigma and barriers to recovery for people struggling with substance use disorders, as well as reduce racial disparities and overcrowding in the criminal justice system. They cited the example of Portugal, which decriminalized drugs in 2001 and saw a decline in drug-related deaths, HIV infections, and incarceration rates.

Why did Oregon lawmakOregon lawmakers voteers reverse course?

However, the implementation of Measure 110 faced significant challenges and criticism from various stakeholders, including law enforcement, local governments, and some addiction experts. Some of the main issues were:

 

  • Lack of funding and oversight: Measure 110 allocated $100 million per year for drug treatment and harm reduction services, but the actual amount available was much lower due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on marijuana sales and tax revenue. Moreover, the measure did not create a clear mechanism for distributing and monitoring the funds, leading to delays and confusion among service providers and potential clients.
  • Surge in drug use and overdoses: Oregon has been hit hard by the opioid and fentanyl crisis, which has worsened during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon had the highest increase in drug overdose deaths in the country in 2020, with a 1,500% rise compared to 2019. Many lawmakers and community members blamed Measure 110 for contributing to the problem, by removing the deterrent effect of criminal sanctions and sending a message that drug use is acceptable and harmless.
  • Public safety and nuisance concerns: Many residents and businesses complained about the increase in visible drug use and disorder in public spaces, especially in downtown Portland, where homeless encampments, syringes, and trash have proliferated. Police officers and prosecutors also expressed frustration about their inability to intervene and enforce the law, as Measure 110 reduced the possession of drugs to a non-criminal violation, equivalent to a traffic ticket, with a $100 fine or a health assessment as the only options.

What does the new bill do?

The new bill, House Bill 4002, aims to address some of the shortcomings and criticisms of Measure 110, by making the following changes:

  • Re-criminalizing drug possession: The bill makes the possession of small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, the bill also offers the option of drug treatment as an alternative to criminal penalties, and requires police officers to offer a referral to a health assessment before issuing a citation. The bill also allows judges to dismiss or expunge drug possession charges if the person completes a treatment program.
  • Increasing access to drug treatment and harm reduction: The bill allocates $211 million for the next two years to expand and improve drug treatment and harm reduction services, such as medication-assisted treatment, syringe exchange, and overdose prevention. The bill also creates a new oversight committee to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness and equity of the services, and to ensure accountability and transparency of the funding.
  • Enhancing drug enforcement and prosecution: The bill gives more authority and resources to law enforcement and prosecutors to target drug trafficking and sales, especially of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The bill also increases the penalties for drug delivery and manufacturing, and creates a new crime of drug-induced homicide, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

What are the reactions and implications?

The bill has received mixed reactions from different groups and individuals, reflecting the complexity and controversy of the drug policy debate in Oregon and beyond. Some of the main perspectives are:

  • Supporters of the bill: The supporters of the bill, which include lawmakers from both parties, law enforcement officials, some addiction experts, and some community members, argue that the bill is a balanced and pragmatic approach that addresses the flaws and unintended consequences of Measure 110, while still preserving its core principles and goals. They claim that the bill will provide more resources and options for people who need help with their drug problems, while also restoring the rule of law and public order in the state.
  • Opponents of the bill: The opponents of the bill, which include the original backers of Measure 110, some civil rights and harm reduction groups, and some drug users and advocates, argue that the bill is a betrayal and a reversal of the will of the voters, who overwhelmingly supported decriminalization in 2020. They claim that the bill will undo the progress and benefits of Measure 110, and bring back the harms and injustices of the war on drugs, such as mass incarceration, racial discrimination, stigma, and overdose deaths.
  • Governor Tina Kotek: The governor, who has the final say on whether to sign or veto the bill, has not yet announced her decision, but has indicated that she is open to the change, saying that she is “not wedded to Measure 110 as it was passed”. She has also expressed concerns about the lack of funding and oversight for drug treatment and harm reduction services, and the need to address the public safety and nuisance issues related to drug use. She has said that she will consult with various stakeholders and experts before making her choice.

The bill, if signed into law, will have significant implications for the state of Oregon, as well as for the national and international drug policy landscape. Oregon, which was the first state to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, and the first state to decriminalize all drugs, has been seen as a leader and a model for drug reform and innovation. The bill, however, could signal a shift and a setback for the drug decriminalization movement, which has gained momentum and support in recent years, especially in the wake of the overdose crisis and the racial justice protests. The bill could also affect the outcomes and evaluations of Measure 110, which is still in its early stages of implementation and has not yet been fully studied and assessed.

By Benjamin Parker

Benjamin Parker is a seasoned senior content writer specializing in the CBD niche at CBD Strains Only. With a wealth of experience and expertise in the field, Benjamin is dedicated to providing readers with comprehensive and insightful content on all things CBD-related. His in-depth knowledge and passion for the benefits of CBD shine through in his articles, offering readers a deeper understanding of the industry and its potential for promoting health and wellness.

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