Oregon re-criminalizes possession of hard drugs after disastrous impact of decriminalization

The state's decriminalization effort resulted in heavy open-air drug use and a significant surge in overdose deaths.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA
Oregon lawmakers voted on Friday to make minor drug possession a criminal misdemeanor offense, following the state's disastrous attempts at decriminalization.

In November of 2020, Oregonians voted for Ballot Measure 110 which decriminalized personal possession of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and LSD.

Oregon became the first state in the union to approve such a measure, turning possession of hard drugs from a criminal misdemeanor into a Class E misdemeanor, which warrants a citation of up to $100 instead of criminal punishment.

The state's decriminalization effort resulted in heavy open-air drug use and a significant surge in overdose deaths. Oregon lawmakers hailed the measure as an approach to addiction, but in return, decriminalization was a hard lesson learned.

In a 21-8 vote, the Oregon Senate voted on Friday to re-criminalize hard drugs as a misdemeanor criminal offense. The Oregon House of Representatives also voted to roll back decriminalization in a 51-7 vote on Thursday. The bill now heads to Democrat Gov. Tina Kotek's desk to be signed into law.

The largest spike in overdose deaths came from opioids and fentanyl-laced methamphetamine, which have taken hold in Democrat-run cities across the United States.

Brandon del Pozo, a Brown University drug policy researcher and former police officer, told the Washington Post that Oregon's decriminalization effort was an utter failure.

"Unfortunately, in the history of drug policy, Oregon’s Measure 110 will go down in the lessons learned — rather than the lasting innovations — category," he said.

The bill passed with 58 percent support after its proponents declared that drug possession and use was a healthcare issue and not a criminal issue.

The law took effect in February 2021, and within the first year, there was a 700-percent increase in overdoses and a 120-percent increase in overdose deaths.

Downtown Portland. Credit: Katie Daviscourt/The Post Millennial

Downtown Portland. Credit: Katie Daviscourt/The Post Millennial

Keith Humphreys, an Associated Press addiction researcher, said: "The Oregon ballot initiative was presented to the public as pro-treatment but it has been a complete failure in that regard."

The criminal sanction associated with possessing small quantities of illegal substances, including heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, was abolished by Measure 110. Officers no longer transported suspects to prison; rather, they issued $100 citations to drug users. Citations could be waived by enrolling in a treatment facility or by calling a state-funded hotline.

However, hardly any users called the hotline for mental health treatment after being given citations.

"Even as it destroys your life, fentanyl use feels so good in the short term that many people won’t try to give it up without the external pressure that Measure 110 eliminated," said Humphreys.

According to federal data, Oregon recorded 1,387 drug overdose fatalities in 2022, an increase of nearly 160 percent from the previous five years, per the Washington Post.
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