Oregon Recriminalizes Drug Possession

"People are exhausted from feeling like they’re under siege."
A person is using fentanyl on Park Avenue following the decriminalisation of all drugs in downtown Portland, Oregon on January 23, 2024. Since hard drugs were decriminalised in Oregon three years ago, there are no arrests, just a fine and a card with a telephone number where the user can get help. In February 2021, possession and use of all drugs -- including cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and fentanyl -- was decriminalised in the western state. Sale and production remains punishable. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Oregon has made possessing small amounts of hard drugs a crime again after a failed experiment with decriminalization.

Governor Tina Kotek, a Democrat, signed a bill into law on Monday that makes personal use possession a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

The new bill rolls back Measure 110, which was approved by about 58% of Oregon voters in 2020, and scrapped criminal charges for possessing small amounts of any drug, even hard drugs like fentanyl. The measure was the first of its kind in the country.

Instead of criminal penalties, offenders were hit with a maximum fine of $100 that was rarely enforced. Drug users could also get their fine dismissed if they called a hotline to get an addiction screening, but in the law’s first year, only 1% of people who received tickets for drug possession called the hotline, according to state auditors.

In the years since Measure 110 took effect, however, the law has become increasingly unpopular as residents deal with public drug use in their daily lives.

Two years later, more than 6 in 10 voters said they thought decriminalization has made drug addiction, homelessness, and crime worse in Oregon, according to a May survey from DMH Research. A combined 63% said they “strongly” supported or would be “somewhat” interested in once again criminalizing hard drugs.

Meanwhile, fatal drug overdoses in Oregon have spiked, driven by the fentanyl crisis.

The state is on track for 1,250 overdose deaths last year, according to data that is still being compiled. This is a stark rise from the 280 people who died of an overdose back in 2019.

Some of the worst scenes of the drug crisis come out of Portland, where addicts shoot up daily in broad daylight downtown.

In September, the Portland City Council passed a ban on using hard drugs on public property.


However, Portland’s new rules have been in limbo while drugs were still decriminalized at the state level.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, another Democrat, has expressed support for Oregon’s new law, which takes effect on September 1.

“People are exhausted from feeling like they’re under siege. They want order restored to their environment,” Wheeler said.

Although the new state law brings back criminal penalties for drug possession, it also encourages law enforcement to establish programs to send drug users to addiction and mental health services rather than the criminal justice system if possible.

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