Oregon’s Measure 110: Lawmakers Contemplating Recriminalizing Minor Drug Possession

Oregon voters passed Measure 110  by a referendum in November 2020, to give effect to a health-based approach to addiction and overdose, but lawmakers are now considering recriminalizing possession of drugs. Measure 110 is funded with cannabis tax revenue.

Oregon is facing serious drug addiction and overdose problems and has recognized the need to expand access to drug treatment and voter-approved Measure 110 aims to take an approach that is more humane while also ensuring it is effective and cost-effective. Senate Bill 755 (2021) established Behavioral Health Resource Networks (BHRNs) and each county and Tribal area in Oregon now has at least one.  The networks’ services are intended to give culturally specific, trauma-informed, and linguistically responsive services.

The state is now reconsidering whether to re-criminalize drug possession. Numerous parties that were briefed on the proposal confirmed that Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber and Rep. Jason Kropf- co-chairs of a special committee which is tasked with addressing the shortcomings of Measure 110 as well as the state’s behavioral health system have held meetings in the past two weeks. The purpose of the meeting appears to be a submission that will set out a slate of policy proposals.

Revealing that elevating minor drug possession from a violation on par with a traffic ticket to a low-level misdemeanor crime is one of the goals of the proposal, those who have been briefed on the bipartisan proposal also confirmed that a series of hearings to lay the groundwork for the 2024 session has been held by the interim committee. The Joint Interim Committee on Addiction and Community Safety Response Committee met last Wednesday but didn’t address the proposals.

In terms of an announcement by Kropf, a Bend Democrat, lawmakers will unveil their recommendations before the beginning of next month’s session.  The committee is expected to introduce a suite of policies. These will include making possession of small amounts of fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, and other street drugs a crime once again. Lieber- a Beaverton Democrat, is open to a wide range of ideas that could address the problem of open drug use and spiraling addiction rates.

The Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance is a coalition of state and national groups that supported Measure 110 and includes among its members the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance which helped fund the campaign for the ballot measure. Their executive director Tera Hurst confirmed that at recent meetings Lieber presented the proposal.

The Alliance was central to organizing a trip to Portugal last year to enable lawmakers and others to understand firsthand the southern European country’s decriminalization strategies. Using her funds, Lieber was part of the trip. Hurst views the potential rollback of Measure 110 as heartbreaking. She said, “It’s not going to make an impact on the problem.” Not only will it not solve the issues, but it could create more harm to those communities who are struggling with addiction- those regularly targeted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Under pressure from the public, lawmakers are now forced to act in the face of plummeting support for Measure 110. Confronting unchecked public fentanyl use and rising overdose rates, a coalition of political, civic, and business leaders indicated last fall that they would push for 2 voter initiatives they think could fix and improve the measure, despite that it enjoyed overwhelming voter support in 2020.

Campaign finance records show that the effort has raised about $703,000 so far, according to the Oregon Secretary of State, but their office has noted that an audit found a considerable part of the money set aside for Measure 110 has not yet reached the people who need it. Only about a third of state grant handouts- approximately $95 million, has been spent by service providers.

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