By Brett Mulligan
In 2020, Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 110 to decriminalize personal possession of controlled substances and allocate Oregon’s growing cannabis tax revenue to grants for drug treatment centers. On September 21, 2022, the Oregon Senate Interim Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation held a hearing to receive a status update on the roll out of Oregon’s revolutionary drug decriminalization law.
The status update highlights that addiction rates continue to rise in Oregon, and the state struggled to efficiently provide new grants to drug treatment centers. This blog post will highlight key findings along with a discussion of some of the testimony from the hearing that indicates Oregon may be reverting to War on Drug policies to tackle illicit drug use.
Dr. Todd Korthuis, head of addiction medicine at Oregon Health & Sciences University, testified that Oregon has the highest use of illicit drugs in the United States (with nearly 10% of Oregonians reporting drug use in the past year) and ranks dead last in access to drug treatment (with nearly 20% of people seeking treatment reporting a lack of access). The COVID-19 pandemic and proliferation of fentanyl has only exacerbated the problem, leading to an 18.5% increase in overdose deaths in the state over the past year.
The Oversight and Accountability Council (OAC), which oversees grants to Behavioral Resource Networks (BHRNs) pursuant to Measure 110, reported to the senate interim committee that $292.5 million in new grant funds is currently earmarked for drug treatment services. The rollout is still ongoing, with only $71.5 million so far paid in lump sum grants.
Troubling Reversion to Tough on Crime Policies
Under Measure 110, simple possession offenses are punishable only by a citation for a Class E violation (a lesser penalty than common traffic violations). These citations cannot exceed $100, recipients cannot go to jail for failing to pay the citation, and the fines are subject to dismissal if the recipient calls a hotline number provided for in the citation and completes a drug treatment screening. Dr. Korthuis opined that Measure 110’s practice of decriminalizing drugs does not provide proper motivation for drug users to seek treatment and reported that of the 3,169 tickets issued as of August 2022 only 137 hotline calls were received with only 36 of those calls requesting information about enrolling in a treatment program.
Dr. Keith Humphreys, a professor at Stanford University who served in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Bush and Obama presidencies, provided similar testimony in discussing Measure 110’s shortfalls and advocated for reinstitution of legal pressure to push drug users into treatment. Dr. Humphrey in his testimony stated:
Oregon has removed all legal pressure to stop drug use and seek treatment. Because many addicted individuals are not working or in touch with family, those pressures to stop using drugs and alcohol are also often absent in their lives. Because the West Coast has an individualistic culture with significant tolerance for substance use, social pressures to seek treatment are often minimal as well. So, on the one hand, we have highly rewarding drugs which are widely available, and on the other hand little or no pressure to stop using them.
Dr. Humphreys further testified that Portugal, the county whose drug policy Measure 110 was designed after, differs from Oregon because the country is allegedly less tolerant of drug use and more readily cracks down on “open-air drug markets.” Senator James Manning (D), a former police officer, directly questioned Dr. Humphreys whether he was advocating a return to War on Drug policies that historically targeted minority communities. Senator Floyd Prozanski (D), a long-time supporter of drug reform, followed up by advocating that people give Measure 110 time to grow and develop a holistic approach to drug treatment and enforcement.
Calls to reinstitute criminal penalties for drug users are a backstep in Oregon’s public policy toward controlled substances. As we previously reported, the Oregon HB 3000 Task Force is contemplating legislative recommendations to increase penalties for unlicensed marijuana production. One member of the HB 3000 Task Force recently advocated that a percentage of Oregon’s cannabis tax revenue be reapportioned for additional law enforcement grants.
If this tax reallocation occurs, it will directly take money away from drug treatment centers, as well as cutting off a potential revenue source for Oregon to develop a social equity program that invests state funds into communities targeted by the War on Drugs. Republican legislators last year introduced legislation for such a tax reallocation to law enforcement, and we will likely see a similar bill introduced this year. If advocates do not organize soon, Oregon’s revolutionary approach to drug use may die with a whimper.
You can reach Brett Mulligan at (503) 488-5424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.