Oregon lawmakers pass bill to recriminalize drug possession

SALEM, Ore. — A bill that would recriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs passed the Oregon Legislature on Friday, undoing a key part of the state’s first drug decriminalization law as governments struggle to respond the deadliest overdose crisis in American history.

The Senate approved House Bill 4002 on a 21-8 vote after the House passed it on a 51-7 vote on Thursday. The bill is now on the desk of Governor Tina Kotek, who said in January that she is open to signing a bill that would reverse the decriminalization, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“With this bill, we are redoubling our commitment to ensuring Oregonians have access to the treatment and care they need,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber of Portland, one of the authors of the bill. bill. “be the beginning of real and transformative change for our justice system.”

The measure makes possession of small amounts of drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine, a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in prison. This allows police to seize the drugs and crack down on their use on sidewalks and in parks. Drug treatment should be offered as an alternative to criminal sanctions.

The bill also aims to make it easier to prosecute people who sell drugs. It increases access to addiction medications and obtaining and maintaining housing without being discriminated against because of the use of those medications.

The decriminalization of amounts of drugs for personal use, which voters approved in 2020 under Ballot Measure 110, should funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenue to drug treatment and harm reduction programs. That didn’t translate into an improved care network for a state with the second-highest rate of substance use disorder in the country and 50th in access to treatment, according to an audit report released in 2023.

And with Oregon experiencing one of the largest spikes in overdose deaths in the country, Republican pressure is mounting and a well-funded campaign group is calling for a ballot measure that would further weaken Measure 110.

Researchers have said it is too early to determine whether the law has contributed to the increase in overdoses, and supporters of the decriminalization measure say the decades-long approach of arresting people for possession and use of drugs has not worked.

Lawmakers who opposed the bill raised these concerns. Some called it a return to the war on drugs, which disproportionately impacted and imprisoned millions of black men.

Democratic Sen. Lew Frederick of Portland, one of four Black senators, said the bill had too many flaws and that the recurring testimony on the bill was that substance use disorders require primarily a medical response.

“I fear that it (the bill) will try and fail to use the same tactics of the past, just to reinforce the criminal justice narrative that has failed for 50 years,” he said, adding that the measure would help more people could set in motion. end up in the legal system without making them healthier.