Jan 25, 2024 - News

Democrats will walk back drug decriminalization

Tin foil on the ground marked with brown lines where opioid pills have been melted and smoked

Oregon politicians aim to stamp out public drug use, particularly of fentanyl, and reintroduce penalties to guide people toward treatment. Photo: Joseph Gallivan/Axios

Two Democrats in the Oregon legislature have revealed plans to tackle public drug use and expand addiction treatment in the upcoming 35-day short session in Salem.

Why it matters: Public sale and use of drugs such as fentanyl have become particularly obvious in Portland, and politicians are feeling the backlash.

Driving the news: The legislative proposal by the Joint Interim Committee on Addiction and Community Safety Response would partially undo Measure 110, which voters approved in 2020 to decriminalize small amounts of drugs.

The intrigue: Democrats are caught between being seen as generals in the war on drugs, and enablers of harm reduction's collateral damage.

What they're saying: "We really tried to thread the needle and make sure we listened to each side and what their needs are," said Lieber at a press conference at the capitol.

The Democrats propose a Class C misdemeanor for possession of drugs, which carries up to 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine – the same class of crime as shoplifting.

Republicans propose making open drug use a Class A misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $6,250 fine.

  • Currently, police can issue a $100 ticket or make the option of calling a recovery helpline, which is little used.

Yes, but: Some former addicts have said that without law enforcement arresting them, there is no one to kickstart them on the road to recovery, even if it means some hellish nights of withdrawal in jail.

Central City Concern is a Portland nonprofit that works with people with substance abuse disorders, some houseless. Spokesperson Laura Recko told Axios by email it makes sense for law enforcement to be involved again.

  • "CCC has had some clients who've had positive experiences with the criminal justice system but we know this isn't true for everyone. Not everyone comes to their recovery journey through the same door; we need a lot more doors," said Recko.

Lieber added trash and graffiti to the mix, signaling that the drug problem is mostly a Portland problem.

  • "We need to urgently expand drug treatment and addiction prevention in our state while stopping drug dealers, confiscating hard drugs, and cleaning up trash and graffiti," Lieber said.
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