Oregon Democrats Propose More Severe Measures for Drug Possession

The re-criminalization for possession of small amounts of fentanyl, meth, and heroin, with offenders facing jail terms of up to six months, has been proposed by Oregon Democrats following fierce opposition to a more lenient approach. However, the proposed changes contained in |House Bill 4002 still give drug offenders various options to avoid imprisonment.

UPDATE: Oregon’s Soft Approach To Drug Possession Is Officially Over


Attempting to Defuse Measures for More Stringent Penalties

Spearheaded by Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Portland, and Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, the Democrats are trying to defuse a ballot measure that will introduce more stringent penalties. In a coalition led by a former head of the Department of Corrections, and with the backing of Oregon billionaires, the proponents want to put an end to the state’s decriminalization law – Measure 110 – approved three years ago.

Their sentiments are endorsed by the results of a recent poll that indicate that citizens are unhappy with the existing permissive approach to punishment for drug possession, adding clout to the collation’s efforts to recriminalize drug offenses.

In a bid to gain support for the revised measures, Democrats have had to make concessions to gain law enforcement support, such as jail sentences of up to six months for the possession of small amounts of drugs such as fentanyl, meth, and heroin. Democrats had previously advocated for a maximum of 30 days in jail but received a backlash of opposition from Republicans, municipal governments, and law enforcement.


Inaction is Not an Option

Senator Lieber states that “inaction is not an option” and, for that reason, her party had to listen to opposition voices if it wanted the support of law enforcement and defuse an opposition ballot measure to recriminalize the state’s present-day drug laws.

Related: Oregon’s Soft Approach To Possession Of Schedule One Drugs Is Catastrophic

Their proposals include the option to seek treatment for substance abuse. The additional treatment centers needed throughout the state will cost between $180 million and $235 million, according to Oregon Live.

The revised house bill is expected to be released within days and no longer requires law enforcement to connect offenders with treatment centers rather than imposing jail terms. Nevertheless, HB 4002 calls for improved and expanded access to medication and treatment centers to aid opioid withdrawal.

The bill also makes it easier for law enforcement to convict drug dealers and to introduce more severe penalties for dealers who operate in parks, at treatment facilities, and neat homeless shelters.

Lieber and Kropf have stressed that drug offenders can still avoid a criminal record by opting to complete treatment. Also, once convicted, offenders would not have to go to jail immediately. Although probation offenders can be jailed for up to six months, they can leave prison to participate in treatment programs. After three years, offenders found guilty of possession will have the crime expunged from the records.

In a further concession to gain opposition support, the Democrats have altered the “mandatory deflection” provision that gave offenders the option of seeking treatment rather than serving time in jail. Lieber and Kropf say they now have the backing of 14 counties for the proposed new system. These are the counties of Baker, Benton, Clackamas, Deschutes, Gilliam, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Marion, Multnomah, Sherman, Wasco, and Washington.

The revised HB 4002 has received an angry and disappointed reaction from advocacy groups who are opposing the proposed drug recriminalization policies. They believe that the reintroduction of penalties for possession of drugs will do untold harm.

But cities, counties, the police, and district attorneys want drug possession to revert to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months.

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