A coalition of Oregon political and business leaders are demanding that legislators re-criminalize possession of hard drugs and public drug use after the decriminalization measure passed just three years ago failed miserably.
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“Oregonians still believe that the best strategy is a minimal use of criminal justice resources to encourage people into treatment and recovery,” said former state representative and onetime director of the Oregon Department of Corrections Max Williams.
“But they also realize the tools that we’ve currently given law enforcement… are not working.”
After 60 percent of Oregon voters passed Measure 110 in 2020, overdose deaths had increased by nearly 75 percent by 2022, with recent data showing an enormous increase in Portland specifically.
The Portland Police Bureau has recorded approximately 277 deadly overdoses between the beginning of 2023 to the start of December, which is more than a 75 percent increase from 2022.
Despite the drug decriminalization project previously having the majority’s support, newer polls consistently show Oregonians’ minds changing about the law.
The coalition, backed by big names such as Nike cofounder Phil Knight and Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, commissioned a survey in August that found 74 percent of respondents favored re-criminalizing possession of fentanyl, heroin, and meth, as well as making treatment required instead of voluntary to avoid jail time.
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Ohio State Highway Patrol via Storyful
A whopping 86 percent of respondents said the state should immediately re-ban the use of hard drugs in public.
“Oregon has turned into an international spectacle, and I think we looked at each other and realized that we made an enormous mistake,” Portland attorney Kristin Olson, a “lifelong liberal” who voted in favor of the decriminalization, told Fox News.
The coalition’s proposal wouldn’t fully repeal Measure 110. They’ve left the portions to prioritize diversion, treatment, and recovery over criminal charges, but it would make possession of small amounts of hard drugs and public drug use crimes again.
The group also aims to “maintain cannabis taxes for expanded prevention, treatment, and recovery,” “improve oversight and accountability,” and “expand penalties for drug dealing.”
The remaining supporters of Measure 110 have argued that re-criminalization would be “harmful and ineffective.”
“It re-stigmatizes people who need help. People are less likely to get help when they are stigmatized,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance to the Oregonian.
Researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine also wrote in a September paper that “laws decriminalizing drug possession in Oregon… were not associated with changes in fatal drug overdose rates.”
While Williams conceded that drug decriminalization did not create the state’s problems, he argued that it “exacerbated” the overdose and crime issues.
“Nobody’s looked at Oregon and said, ‘Wow, this is a model of fabulous success,’” he continued. “If anything, a state like our friends to the north in Washington, I think, quickly moved to reinstate criminal sanctions associated with possession of these hard drugs because they did not want to follow the pattern that Oregon had followed.”
If the legislature doesn’t overturn Measure 110, the local leader said the coalition is ready to run their proposal as a ballot measure to reverse it.
“There really are people that are dying as a result of this policy,” Williams added. Waiting “just delays the crisis that we’re in that much longer.”