Oregon Legislature Considers Recriminalizing Drug Offenses Amid Rising Deaths by Overdose
As drug paraphernalia litters the sidewalks, the Oregon legislative assembly is embroiled in debate to recriminalize possession.
Both Democrats and Republicans realize that the state’s current “soft” approach to drug possession must be re-examined to curb the soaring rate of deaths by fentanyl overdose, and the open public use and abuse on display on the sidewalks of downtown Portland.
Recriminalizing Drug Offences in Oregon is the Main Topic at Legislative Session
Recriminalization is unlikely to be accepted by some Democrats, while Republicans may not support a bill that does not introduce stronger measures against drug offenders.
Adding clout to the recriminalization movement is Oregon Governor Tina Kopec, who stated that she would be willing to sign a recriminalization bill if it offered offenders acceptable rehabilitation alternatives. The governor made the statement at a press conference two weeks ago when the state and the city of Portland announced a 90-day state of emergency to try and resolve Portland’s fentanyl crisis.
Kopec said the question she will ask of any changes to the law is whether they will make any difference for the better in the final analysis. Kopec said she will consider what additional measures lawmakers suggest to ensure that drug users are given the option of rehabilitation services.
Anything Less than Recriminalization of Drug Offences is Like an Elastic Plaster on a Bullet Hole
Republic House Minority Leader Jeff Helfrich (Hood River) remains rigid in his belief that Measure 110, adopted by the state three years ago, is scrapped and drug possession returns to a Class A misdemeanor. His spokesperson, Cole Avery, says anything less than a law to get drug users off the streets is like putting an elastic plaster on a bullet hole.
Support for the reclassification of drug offenses to a Class A misdemeanor is finding growing support among Republican lawmakers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and cities and counties. They argue that recriminalization for a misdemeanor of up to one year in jail is the only solution to convincing drug addicts to seek help. The pro-recriminalization movement has some of the state’s wealthiest people in its ranks. They say if lawmakers do not act, they will approve a ballot measure imposing heavier penalties on drug offenders.
Should Drug Possession Be a Class A, C or Even a B Misdemeanor
The focus of the state’s drug problem, which has escalated since reducing the penalties for possession of substances like heroin, fentanyl, and meth, is whether the offenses should be a Class C or a Class A misdemeanor. While there is growing support for more severe penalties, the Democrats have tabled House Bill 4002. The bill proposes an expansion of access to rehabilitation with medications to alleviate drug withdrawal symptoms and an expansion of treatment services. The bill will also facilitate the prosecution of drug dealers.
At present, the possession of small amounts of opioids are a non-criminal offense with no punishable consequence. House Bill 4002 will reclassify possession as a Class C misdemeanor, with offenders facing 30 days in jail.
While the Democrat bill is facing opposition, together with Republican colleagues, they are seeking another solution by creating a new misdemeanor. The introduction of a Class B misdemeanor will allow law enforcement to impose six-month jail terms, give the police greater authority to stop the use of drugs in public places and steer offenders to rehabilitation services.
Senate Democrat spokesperson Tess Seger confirmed that the introduction of a new unclassified drug possession misdemeanor is just one of several different proposals that the lawmakers are considering.
Groundswell of Support for Stronger Drug Abuse Measures
There are opponents to the groundswell of supporters for more severe drug abuse offenses. They remain steadfast in their belief that recriminalization will be a costly and harmful mistake. They also believe that stricter measures will adversely affect people of color.
Adding impetus to their soft approach on drug offenses, they say that recent research suggests that the flood of inexpensive fentanyl to the West is the reason for the soaring number of overdoses in Oregon, and not Measure 110 approved in 2020.