Oregon Tightens Laws on Hard Drug Possession

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek has signed House Bill 4002, which will reclassify hard drug possession as a misdemeanor and establish new policies in order to address the state’s worsening addiction and overdose rates.

Reintroducing Penalties

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek just signed House Bill 4002, which reintroduces criminal penalties for the possession of hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, even if it is just a small amount of the substance.

This new bill shows a major change in direction for the state after Oregon pioneered the decriminalization policy established by Measure 110 in 2020. After passing the new bill, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek said, “For what the Legislature came up with, it’s not where we were before Measure 110 — it’s a different approach.”

The Oregon state government originally decriminalized the possession of drugs in the hopes that this radical shift in policy could set a positive example for other states where harsh drug laws have done little to curb their respective drug problems.

Increases in Addiction

Unfortunately, since passing Measure 110 in 2020 and decriminalizing the possession of drugs, Oregon has actually seen an increase in overdose and addiction problems, forcing the Oregon government to reverse its decision. Under the new law, the possession of small amounts of hard drugs will be reclassified as a misdemeanor and be punishable by up to six months in jail.

After the new bill passed, Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow said, “Misdemeanor possession charges may not be enough to get someone to change.”

Perlow then went on to say, “If we could see a reduction in overdoses and overdose deaths, I’d take that as a win. I would say something is working. What we have right now sure isn’t.”

An Alternative to Incarceration

However, it must be stated that the new legislation not only changes the criminal consequences for drug possession but also increases the availability of drug treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration. The new bill hopes to bridge the gap in Oregon’s current addiction treatment programs by establishing behavioral health task forces and workforce programs while also reducing barriers to substance abuse treatment.

Governor Kotek spoke about the decision and highlighted the importance of the criminal justice program and health providers working together to implement this new law and improve the state’s addiction problem.

Kotek said, “Success of this policy framework hinges on the ability of implementing partners to commit to deep coordination at all levels.”

Recognizing the Issues

After recognizing the challenges brought about by 2020’s passage of Measure 110, House Bill 4002 is meant to rectify the issues that resulted in increased addiction and overdose rates. Since Oregon passed Measure 110, the state has seen a 20% surge in overdoses, and law enforcement has to respond to constant overdose calls every day.

Critics of Measure 110’s initial decriminalization efforts were quick to point out that the measure’s overly progressive nature could be too radical a shift to address the issues it hoped to resolve effectively.

A Recovery Works Northwest worker, Jovannis Velez, in Oregon, told NBC News, “We were too progressive,” and “Society wasn’t ready for it.” Some Republicans in the Oregon Senate stated, “Combatting a problem by decriminalising the problem is bad policy. Never again.”

Remaining Hopeful 

Despite the criticism and ineffectiveness brought about by Measure 110, many within the Oregon legislative body remain hopeful that the new House Bill 4002 will show how they have learned from their mistakes and improved upon the foundation they made in 2020.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber said, “With this bill, we are doubling down on our commitment to make sure Oregonians have access to the treatment and care that they need.”

The post Oregon Tightens Laws on Hard Drug Possession first appeared on Swift Feed.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Nadia Yong.

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