Oregon Democrats are moving to undo part of the state’s drug decriminalization law that has plummeted in popularity since it went into effect.
Democrats on the state legislature’s addiction committee announced Tuesday that they will introduce a new bill to bring back misdemeanor criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs.
In 2020, Oregon voters approved Measure 110, which scrapped criminal charges for possessing small amounts of any drug, even hard drugs like fentanyl.
Instead, offenders are hit with a maximum fine of $100 that is rarely enforced. Drug users can also get their fine dismissed if they call a hotline to get an addiction screening, but in the law’s first year, only 1% of people who received tickets for drug possession called the hotline, according to state auditors.
About 58% of Oregon voters approved the drug decriminalization law, the first of its kind in the country.
In the years since Measure 110 took effect, however, the law has become increasingly unpopular as residents deal with public drug use in their daily lives.
Two years later, more than 6 in 10 voters said they thought decriminalization has made drug addiction, homelessness, and crime worse in Oregon, according to a May survey from DMH Research. A combined 63% said they “strongly” supported or would be “somewhat” interested in once again criminalizing hard drugs.
Meanwhile, fatal drug overdoses in Oregon have spiked.
Oregon had more than 1,700 drug overdose deaths during the year that ended in August, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number is a 38% increase from the more than 1,200 deaths the state saw in the previous 12 months.
The new bill Democrats plan to introduce would make using drugs in certain public places like parks a low-level misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $1,250 fine or both. However, drug users can avoid charges if they complete a behavioral health screening and meet with a caseworker.
The bill would also let police confiscate a user’s drugs and establish stronger sentences for dealing drugs in certain places such as near parks or homeless shelters. It would also increase access to treatment, housing, and insurance.
“It’s the compromise path, but also the best policy that we can come up with to make sure that we are continuing to keep communities safe and save lives,” said state Senator Kate Lieber (D), who co-chairs the addiction committee and will introduce the new bill.
As recently as November, Lieber was saying it would be a “mistake” to overturn Measure 110, saying such a move would “make us go backwards.”
In September, the Portland City Council passed a ban on using hard drugs on public property, a sign of how fed up the city is with rampant open-air drug use polluting its streets.
However, that ordinance cannot go into effect unless the state reverses its decriminalization law.