Oregon makes drug possession a crime after decriminalization failed to curb drug crisis

Anyone caught with small amounts of cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamines, or other similar substances will be charged with a misdemeanor.

Jarryd Jaeger Vancouver, BC

On Monday, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed House Bill 4002, re-criminalizing the possession of hard drugs in the state and expanding treatment options for those suffering from substance abuse disorders. 

The move comes amid an opioid crisis that many have argued has been exacerbated by the lack of legal ramifications for users.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the bill comes into effect on September 1. After that, anyone caught with small amounts of cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamines, or other similar substances will be charged with a misdemeanor.

Possession was decriminalized in the state in 2020 after voters passed Ballot Measure 110.

Kotek explained that the new legislation takes a "different approach."

"There are some people who believe that some connection with local law enforcement is a helpful motivator for some folks to get into treatment," she said in March. "I think what you see in the bill is an attempt to say if that is true, let's make sure folks are getting to treatment."

Following its passing, she noted that "success of this policy framework hinges on the ability of implementing partners to commit to deep coordination at all levels, explaining that, "courts, Oregon State Police, local law enforcement, defense attorneys, district attorneys, and local behavioral health providers are all critical to these conversations and necessary partners to achieve the vision for this legislation."

Under the new law, those apprehended by police for possessing drugs will be given the option to "deflect" from the legal system into treatment programs, however whether individual counties choose to go along with that system has been left up to local leaders.

As OPB reports, 23 of Oregon's 36 counties have already signed on.

Despite the fact that anyone arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime is entitled to legal defense, Oregon has struggled to provide attorneys to every suspect. Kotek acknowledged that re-criminalization will likely lead to an increase in the number of "unrepresented persons."

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