Oregon House passes bill unwinding Measure 110 to address addiction crisis

The Oregon House on Thursday passed a proposal to reshape the state’s response to the fentanyl addiction and overdose crisis and put more power in the hands of police and prosecutors to rein in drug users. 

The bipartisan vote of 51-7 kicks House Bill 4002 to the Senate, the last step in a long legislative process that started last fall. The bill would unwind voter-passed Measure 110 by putting in place a new misdemeanor charge for drug possession, a move intended to encourage people to enter treatment programs rather than face charges and go to jail. Potential jail time for misdemeanor drug possession would only kick in if a defendant violates their probation. 

The bill represents a bipartisan compromise between Democrats and Republicans that was hashed out over hours-long meetings dating to September, with dozens of witnesses from advocacy groups, law enforcement, family members of overdose victims and behavioral health providers giving testimony. Oregon’s district attorneys, police and sheriffs support it, as do cities and business groups like the Portland Metro Chamber of Commerce and Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

“We are in the midst of a profound public health crisis and we must meet it with compassion and courage,” said Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-Portland. “These are humans.”

The bill would undo a key provision of the voter-passed Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs and enacted a system of $100 citations that a person could avoid if they obtained a health assessment. Police have said the citation system lacked the teeth necessary to encourage people to enter treatment, and a majority of Oregonians in surveys have voiced support for repealing Measure 110 or parts of it. 

The bill would create an unclassified misdemeanor that would carry potential jail time of up to 30 days only for probation violations or up to 180 days when a defendant’s probation is revoked. But they would get an early release from jail if they entered inpatient or outpatient treatment.

The bill would maintain the measure’s provision that puts a share of cannabis revenue toward addiction services and programs.

A solemn mood settled in the chamber at the start of discussions with Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend and co-chair of the joint addiction committee, introducing the bill. He thanked Oregonians who testified before the committee about their losses of loved ones and their hard-fought triumphs over addiction.

“We have to acknowledge the tragedies,” said Kropf, also a former Deschutes County prosecutor. “We have to figure out a way to build on the successes.”

Other lawmakers shared stories about people struggling with addiction they have met in their professional or personal lives. Dexter, a physician, talked about working with a man who had a methamphetamine addiction. 

And Rep. James Hieb, R-Canby, spoke about the loss of his younger brother to a fentanyl overdose in 2014, declaring, “I believe that this bill will help addicts.” 

Three Republican and four Democratic lawmakers voted against the bill, spurred in part by concerns that it either did not go far enough or would disproportionately put people of color in jail.

“Criminalization for drug addiction is not the answer,” said Rep. Travis Nelson, D-Portland. 

Nelson, a Black lawmaker and nurse, said the bill falls short of the comprehensive strategy needed to tackle the issue and will disproportionately harm people of color.

“I fear it may be taking a step backward,” Nelson said.

When the Legislature’s joint addiction committee debated the bill, civil rights advocates, including the ACLU of Oregon, warned that Oregon’s system of dealing with drug users would deteriorate because of inequities in the legislation. 

For example, counties would have the option, but not a mandate, to set up new, state-funded deflection programs that offer people a chance to avoid charges after an initial encounter with a police officer. 

So far, 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties have signaled their intent to set up the new programs. Defendants in all Oregon’s counties, not just the 23, would have additional opportunities to enter diversion programs with treatment and the expungement of charges.

The bill would provide about $30.5 million for counties and community mental health programs, which contract with counties to provide services to people in addiction. 

That’s part of an estimated $211 million that lawmakers want to put toward addiction-related services, treatment and programs. That total includes more funding for court programs, community mental health clinics, treatment programs, new residential treatment facilities and other services like addiction medication in jails. 

Measure 110 providers, who’ve already received $276 million in cannabis revenue, will continue to receive that funding for  housing, treatment and services from peers, who have experienced addiction and recovery themselves and are trained to work with people in addiction.

“The public health approach of expanding treatment without punishment was the right approach, but HB 4002 doubles down on the same mistakes the state made in implementing Measure 110,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit with members and providers who give Measure 110-funded services. “Unfortunately, it will be people struggling with addiction — especially those living outside and Black and brown Oregonians — who will pay the biggest price. And our communities will be no safer for it.”

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