Mar 1, 2024

Oregon Legislature reverses drug decriminalization

Illustration of a pile of white powder with the negative space shaped like a gavel.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Oregon Legislature approved a bill Friday reversing part of voter-approved Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. It's a move aimed at addressing the state's addiction and overdose crisis.

Why it matters: During this year's short legislative session, lawmakers have focused on how to address skyrocketing fentanyl use while facing backlash from voters and business leaders who support tougher penalties for drug users.

  • However, advocates say recriminalizing drug possession could change addiction policy and spending for years to come, and they warn it could harm people who want to quit using drugs and ​​disproportionately penalize people of color.

Driving the news: In a 21-8 vote on the Senate floor Friday, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved House Bill 4002with five Democrats and three Republicans opposing.

  • Its companion budget measure, House Bill 5204, also passed, which allocates $211 million for addiction-related services like treatment facilities, court programs and increased access to medication-assisted therapies in jails.

The intrigue: The one aspect that remains intact from Measure 110 is the provision to use cannabis tax revenue to fund treatment programs and services.

How it works: The bill creates a new, unclassified misdemeanor for possession punishable by up to 30 days in jail for probation violations or 180 days in jail if a judge revokes probation.

  • Though not mandated, 23 counties, representing 84% of Oregonians, indicated they'll introduce deflection programs for those arrested or convicted of possession of a small amount of hard drugs (less than 5 grams) — connecting the programs to treatment instead of entering a plea or standing trial.
  • If treatment is completed, the case will be dismissed and the record expunged.

What they're saying: In closing remarks, state Sen. Kate Lieber (D-Portland) acknowledged the fierce debate, "We agree on far more than we disagree, we all want Oregonians to get the treatment they need."

  • Sen. James Manning, one of the Democrats who opposed, said, "We cannot lock people up for self harm."

What we're watching: Now the bill heads to Gov. Tina Kotek's desk.

  • While she previously signaled her support for recriminalization, a spokesperson for the governor told Axios that she will review it to determine whether the measure passes "the balancing test of concrete, measurable improved outcomes for individuals who are struggling with addiction and accountability."
  • If she signs it into law, Portland will be able to enforce its ban on hard drug use in public that the City Council approved in September.

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