Oregon Governor Kotek Stuns with Bill Reversing Drug Decriminalization Trial

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On January 25th, Oregon’s Democratic governor Tina Kotek, signed House Bill 4002 into law. This bill reverts the possession of small quantities of drugs to a criminal offense and marks the end of an innovative decriminalization project plagued with implementation challenges.

The law is a reversal of Measure 110, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act that was approved by voters back in 2020. The New York Times called it “one the most radical drug laws overhauls in American History.”

Measures 110 and 4002 make it a misdemeanor to possess drugs for “personal use”, such as heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.

The new law also gives police the power to seize drugs and to prohibit their open use on public sidewalks and in parks. This is known as “deflection”.

The law allows for a county-by-county strategy. This was a concession from lawmakers to win the support of law enforcement agencies. Officials in 23 of Oregon’s counties have agreed to implement some sort of deflection program.

Kotek acknowledged in her three-page letter of signing the law, which gives counties the authority to design their methods to implement the policy. She also wrote about the importance of cooperation.

The success of this policy framework depends on the ability of the implementing partners, including the courts, Oregon State Police, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as defense attorneys, district attorneys, and local behavioral health providers, to work together at all levels. These conversations are critical and partners in achieving the vision of the legislation.

Measure 110 allotted a large amount of cannabis tax revenues, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, to addiction services. The state auditors found delays in the distribution of funds and that health authorities, who were already dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic, had difficulty implementing the treatment system.

The fentanyl epidemic led to an increase in the number of daily fatal overdoses. In 2023, the opioid-related death toll had reached 955. This is a significant rise from the 280 reported deaths in 2019.

In recent months, these pressures forced Oregon Democrats to reevaluate the policy of decriminalization. HB4002 passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature in March with a strong vote in the House of 51-7.

Oregon GOP leaders have long advocated for a revamp of Measure 110. After Kotek signed the bill, House Minority leader Jeff Helfrich stated emphatically that it showed the Republicans had “stood together and forced Democrats to reinstate criminal sanctions.”

Changes are scheduled to come into effect on the 1st of September.