Oregon Governor Has Final Say in Criminalization of Drug Possession

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek will have the final yeah or nay say when she assesses the pros and cons of House Bill 4002 approved by the Senate on Friday. HB 4002 will reintroduce the criminalization of drug possession and received the support of both Democrat and Republican senators.

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


Drug Use and Overdoses Provides Lawmakers with the Ammunition for Change

Drug users of substances like fentanyl, meth, and heroin could now face six months in prison after Senators voted in favor of returning to the criminalization of drug possession. The introduction of HB 4002 is an attempt to turn the tide on drug-related deaths and to move users off the streets of Oregon.

Read: Oregon Democrats Propose More Severe Measures For Drug Possession

HB 4002 was approved with 21-8 votes, spelling the end of the state’s lenient approach to possession of small amounts of drugs that became a misdemeanor three years ago. Since then, the use of fentanyl and the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has exploded in Oregon, providing lawmakers with the impetus and the ammunition for change.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, applauded the bill, describing it as a victory for the residents of Oregon. He described the state’s drug possession decriminalization attempt as a “free-for-all” that saw drugs openly used in public, an increase in the use of fentanyl, and an increase in death-related drug overdoses. Oregon, said the senator, has become a “national dumpster fire.”

The bill now awaits the approval of the state Gov. Kotek, who has previously indicated that she is not opposed to the reintroduction of laws penalizing drug possession. In an earlier statement, Gov. Kotek said she hoped for a proposal that would answer the questions surrounding drug recriminalization.

Another factor she will undoubtedly have to consider is the proposed ballot of a coalition group headed by Oregon’s former corrections department head. The coalition has proposed more severe anti-drug measures but has indicated that it will withdraw if the governor approves HB 4002.


Despite Exit Options, HB 4002 Criticized by Opponents

Although offenders could face a six-month jail sentence for possession of small amounts of fentanyl, meth, and heroin, HB 4002 offers them an exit option. Offenders can choose a course of treatment instead of facing criminal penalties and have their records automatically expunged.

Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said HB 4002 is harmful to people of color. He says the history of previous anti-drug measures left him with little faith that people of color would receive equal or compassionate treatment.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, says he is concerned that the court system will not cope with the additional workload that HB 4002 will create. He is also doubtful about the bill’s efficacy and whether its implementation could be non-discriminatory.

Another Democrat, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, said he would have supported HB 4002 if it had a provision that automatically ended drug use criminal penalties after some time. He also said the bill failed to address the public use of controlled substances.



Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Portland, was a co-author of HB 4002, which she said would double the state’s commitment to ensure that drug users had access to necessary treatment and care. Sen. Lieber believes the bill will make a “transformative change” to the Oregon justice system.

HB 4002 will expand access to opioid withdrawal medications, improve facilities for addiction treatment, and pave the way for the justice system to impose steeper penalties on drug dealers.

Senators approved a $211 million package to fund the project with a vote of 27-3.

Lawmakers conceded that HB 4002 addresses Oregon’s escalating drug addiction crisis.

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