Oregon Governor Signs Bill Recriminalizing Drug Possession

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By journalsofus.com

The Oregon State Capitol is quiet on Sunday morning in Salem, Oregon, U.S., January 17, 2021. Photo by Alisha Jucevic/REUTERS

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek on Monday signed a bill that recriminalizes possession of small amounts of drugs, end the country’s first decriminalization experiment which was hampered by implementation problems.

The new law reverses a 2020 voter-approved measure by making so-called possession for personal use a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. It also lays out ways to offer treatment as an alternative to criminal sanctions, encouraging law enforcement agencies to create diversion programs that would divert people toward addiction and mental health services instead of the criminal justice system.

In a signed letter, Kotek said the law’s success will depend on “deep coordination” between courts, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and local mental health providers, describing them as “necessary partners to achieve the vision of this legislation.

LOOK: Oregon Decriminalization Reveals Potential Solutions and Challenges to Addressing Addiction

Measure 110, approved by voters with 58% support in 2020, made possession for personal use of illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine punishable only by a fine and a maximum fine of $100. Supporters said treatment is more effective than jail in helping people overcome addiction and that the decades-old approach of arresting people for drug possession and use has not worked.

The law directed hundreds of millions of dollars in state cannabis tax revenue to addiction services. But the money was slow to come out and health authorities, already grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, struggled to maintain the new treatment system, state auditors found. At the same time, the fentanyl crisis began to lead to a rise in fatal overdoses.

Those pressures led Oregon Democrats to change their stance on decriminalization policy in recent months.

Some of the measure’s historical supporters voted in favor of the new law during this year’s brief legislative session. While other Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure, concerned that it could result in more arrests and exacerbate social inequalities, it was ultimately approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature last month.

Republican leaders had long sought to reform Measure 110. After Kotek’s signing, House Minority Leader Jeff Helfrich said the law illustrated how Republicans “stood together and forced the Democrats” to reinstate criminal sanctions.

The changes will take effect on September 1.

The Oregon State Capitol is quiet on Sunday morning in Salem, Oregon, U.S., January 17, 2021. Photo by Alisha Jucevic/REUTERS

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