Home News Oregon recriminalizes some hard drugs that voters decriminalized in 2020

Oregon recriminalizes some hard drugs that voters decriminalized in 2020

Oregon on Monday re-criminalized some of the drugs that voters had decriminalized just three years earlier, with Gov. Tina Kotek signing into law a bill making possession of small quantities of some hard drugs a misdemeanor.

Under the new law, possessing heroin, methamphetamine and other hard drugs could net someone up to six months in jail unless they opt to enter rehab, which will be offered as an alternative. It also empowers police to confiscate the drugs and root drug use off sidewalks and out of parks.

The 2020 ballot initiative Kotek upended, known as Measure 110, imposed a $100 fine that could be waived if a person chose treatment for addiction to hard drugs including heroin, cocaine and oxycodone. The treatment centers would be funded by legal-marijuana sales. Measure 110 went into effect Feb. 1, 2021, the first such law in the nation to decriminalize possession and personal use of all illicit drugs.

Flash forward two years and enter House Bill 4002, which sailed through both state legislative chambers with broad support from both sides of the aisle. The new law reverses some of the provisions in Measure 110, though still using arrest as a last resort by encouraging law enforcement “to prioritize pre-arrest deflection,” Kotek wrote in a letter to the state’s legislative leaders. It will also improve access to drug treatment programs, which was lacking under full decriminalization.

An increase in fentanyl availability and opioid deaths, which tripled from 2019 to 2022, helped spur the change. There was also a spike in homelessness.

However, some advocates for public health said Oregon gave up on the law too soon, pointing to Portugal’s 75% drop in drug deaths over about 20 years. Since 2001, Portugal has been reframing the opioid crisis as a public health problem rather than a crime, Politico noted.

Advocates for decriminalization said decriminalization had not been proven to be the cause of those increases, according to Politico. Other factors, such as unaffordable housing and the pandemic, plus a surge in fentanyl supply, were at play as well, they told Politico.

Even some treatment providers, though, could see where the backlash stemmed from.

“We were too progressive,” Oregon outreach worker Jovannis Velez of Recovery Works Northwest, told NBC News. “Society wasn’t ready for it.”

With News Wire Services


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