Oregon Governor Recriminalizes Drug Possession

(HorizonPost.com) – Oregon Governor Tina Kotek on Monday signed legislation that will re-criminalize the possession of drugs for personal use, ending the state’s experiment in drug decriminalization, the Associated Press reported.

The new law, HB 4002, rolls back Measure 110, the 2020 voter-approved ballot measure that made the possession of illicit drugs for personal use punishable by only a ticket and a maximum $100 fine.

Under the new law, personal use possession of drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, would be a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to six months in jail.

The law also offers treatment alternatives to criminal penalties by encouraging law enforcement to set up diversionary programs to treat addiction and mental health issues.

In signing the measure into law, Kotek, a Democrat, said the success of HB 4002 would require “deep coordination” on the part of law enforcement, prosecutors, the courts, defense attorneys, and mental health providers.

Measure 110 was approved by Oregon voters with 58 percent support. Proponents of the ballot measure argued that treating addiction was more effective than criminal prosecution. They maintained that decades of arresting people for drug possession failed to stop drug use and addiction.

The measure directed tax revenue from Oregon’s legal cannabis industry toward the state’s addiction services. However, a state audit found that the money was slow to come, and public health authorities in the state, already dealing with the pandemic, struggled to establish a new addiction treatment system.

Compounding the problem was the sudden rise in overdose deaths due to the growing fentanyl crisis.

Ultimately, Democrat lawmakers in the state shifted their position on decriminalization. Even some lawmakers who long supported decriminalizing drugs voted in favor of HB 4002 during this year’s legislative session. Despite some opposition from Democrats who feared the law would result in more arrests, the bill easily passed the Democrat-controlled state legislature in March.

The law is scheduled to take effect on September 1.

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