Governor of Oregon enacts legislation to re-criminalize drug possession

Oregon’s Democratic Governor, Tina Kotek, took a significant step on Monday by signing a bill into law that reverts the possession of small amounts of drugs back to being a criminal offense in the state. This decision puts an end to Oregon’s unique and pioneering experiment with drug decriminalization, which unfortunately faced challenges during its implementation.

The recently passed legislation reverses a voter-approved initiative from 2020, downgrading personal use possession to a misdemeanor offense that can result in a jail term of up to six months. Additionally, the new law incentivizes law enforcement agencies to develop deflection programs that prioritize addiction and mental health services over punitive measures, offering individuals an alternative to traditional criminal penalties.

According to Kotek, the success of the law hinges on the necessity of a strong collaboration between various stakeholders, including courts, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and local mental health providers. In her signing letter, she emphasizes the crucial role these partners play in realizing the goals of this legislation.

In 2020, voters approved Measure 110 with 58% support. This measure transformed the consequences for personal use possession of illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Instead of facing jail time, individuals now receive a ticket and a maximum fine of $100. Proponents of this measure argue that treatment is a more effective approach in helping people overcome addiction, as the previous decades-long strategy of arresting individuals for drug possession and use has proven ineffective.

The state’s cannabis tax revenue was supposed to be used for addiction services, as directed by the law. However, the funds were not distributed promptly, and the health authorities, who were already dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, faced difficulties in establishing the new treatment system. Meanwhile, the fentanyl crisis started causing a rise in fatal overdoses.

Oregon Democrats have recently changed their stance on decriminalization policy due to the pressures they faced.

During this year’s short legislative session, there were some individuals who had previously shown support for the measure but ended up voting for the new law. On the other hand, there were also Democratic lawmakers who opposed the measure, as they were worried that it could lead to an increase in arrests and worsen social inequities. However, despite these concerns, the Democrat-controlled Legislature ultimately passed the law last month.

GOP leaders had been pushing for a reform of Measure 110 for a considerable amount of time. Following Kotek’s signing, House Minority Leader Jeff Helfrich expressed his view that the law demonstrated the Republicans’ unity and their ability to compel Democrats to reinstate criminal penalties.

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MBS Staff
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