Oregon governor signs bill criminalizing drug possession. Comes into play 1 September 2024


Gov. Tina Kotek has made it official: Drug possession will soon be a crime once again in Oregon.

On Monday, Kotek signed House Bill 4002, which both expands funding for substance abuse treatment and makes possessing small amounts of hard drugs a misdemeanor beginning Sept. 1.

In a three-page signing letter, Kotek appeared to address the limitations and challenges of a law that gives individual counties sweeping power to design their own ways to implement the policy shift.

“Success of this policy framework hinges on the ability of implementing partners to commit to deep coordination at all levels,” Kotek writes. “Courts, Oregon State Police, local law enforcement, defense attorneys, district attorneys, and local behavioral health providers are all critical to these conversations and necessary partners to achieve the vision for this legislation.”

Kotek declined OPB’s interview request to discuss House Bill 4002.

The legislation passed the Oregon Legislature in February by wide margins. It rolls back a key provision of Ballot Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine, fentanyl and methamphetamine. Oregon voters approved Measure 110 in 2020.

“For what the Legislature came up with, it’s not where we were before Measure 110 — it’s a different approach,” Kotek told reporters during a news conference in March. “There are some people who believe that some connection with local law enforcement is a helpful motivator for some folks to get into treatment. I think what you see in the bill is an attempt to say if that is true, let’s make sure folks are getting to treatment.”

Lawmakers and the governor hope the legislation will get more people connected to treatment services. The new law allows drug users who come in contact with police to “deflect” from the justice system into treatment programs.

But the law allows for a county-by-county approach. That was a compromise lawmakers made to get law enforcement groups on board. Many Democrats had hoped to make diversion a requirement of the bill.

So far leaders in 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties have agreed to some kind of deflection program. The way it looks could be different in each county — and it could not exist at all in other parts of the state.

“It’s not enough to write the word ‘deflection’ in a bill, you actually have to create the apparatus and they did not create the apparatus or fund it,” said Sandy Chung of the ACLU of Oregon, which opposes the new law. “We’ll see whether the counties actually succeed in creating those programs.”


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