Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Oregon re-criminalizes small amounts of hard drugs after 2020 voter initiative is overturned

By 37ci3 Apr1,2024

Last month, state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed House Bill 4002, repealing a major part of a voter-approved initiative to decriminalize small amounts of drugs.

Opponents of the bill, including treatment providers and public advocates, say the new law is a return to the failed war on drugs that fills prisons but does little to curb addiction.

Oregon voters are in the majority In 2020, it adopted a decriminalization measure, It is known as Event 110. It reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of hard drugs and created a framework to help people access treatment services.

“We were very progressive,” said Jovannis Velez, outreach worker for Recovery Works Northwest, which operates treatment centers in Oregon. “Society was not ready for this”

Supporters of the original measure saw it as an opportunity to help people struggling with addiction get the help they need rather than face jail time.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenue were earmarked to go into drug treatment and harm reduction programs. But that hasn’t translated into an improved network of care for a state with the second-highest rate of substance use disorders in the country and 50th for access to treatment. Audit report released in 2023.

Sarah Pulver, BHRC's Practice Peer Specialist, pulls Narcan out of her book bag
Sarah Pulver, BHRC’s Peer of Practice Specialist, pulls Narcan out of a book bag during outreach tours in downtown Portland, Ore., on March 18.Jordan Gale for NBC News

The services were difficult to access and never fully implemented, angering lawmakers who opposed decriminalization from the start. The rise in overdose deaths and homelessness, largely related to fentanyl use, created a political backlash.

Opponents of the decriminalization bill argued that the pilot program did not achieve the intended results and only exacerbated outdoor drug addiction.

“Fighting a problem by decriminalizing it is bad policy,” Oregon Senate Republicans said in a statement in March. “Never at once.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber of Portland, one of the bill’s authors, added that its passage would “be the beginning of real and transformative change for our justice system.”

“With this bill, we are doubling down on our commitment to ensuring Oregonians have access to the treatment and care they need,” he said.

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By 37ci3

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