Jamie Parfitt, Colten Weekley (KGW)
PORTLAND, Ore. — In November 2020, Oregon voters approved Measure 110, the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” — and the outcome wasn’t particularly close. Over 58% of voters said yes, less than 42% said no. When it became law, the measure decriminalized user amounts of drugs and started the gradual process of putting cannabis tax dollars toward drug treatment organizations.
But anecdotal evidence in the years since suggests that many Oregonians have changed their minds on Measure 110 as the opioid epidemic, supercharged by cheap and powerful fentanyl, runs rampant in the state.
The results of a recent survey by the well-respected Emerson College Polling provide a clearer picture of how public opinion has shifted. The Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, a national think tank and activist organization with a history of opposing the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of other drugs, commissioned the poll.
Emerson surveyed 1,000 Oregon registered voters over the course of two days earlier this month using phone calls, emails and an online panel. The margin of error was plus or minus 3%.
Just over 8% of people they spoke with said they did not vote in the 2020 election. Almost 53% voted for Joe Biden in that election, while 37% said they voted for Donald Trump. Another 2.2% said they voted for someone else. Pollsters did not ask how respondents voted on Measure 110 itself, and most questions did not have an option to say “I don’t know.”
Overall, 58% of respondents said they think Oregon is on the wrong track. About 42% said the state is headed in the right direction.
The second question on the survey lays out the public opinion shift in stark terms: Should Measure 110 be repealed completely or be left alone? The poll found that about 56% of respondents would prefer it be repealed, while 45% said it should remain.
More specific questions returned an even more lopsided result. When asked if parts of Measure 110 should be repealed to bring back penalties for possession of small amounts of hard drugs or if the measure should be left alone, 64% supported the return of criminal consequences. In practical terms, that would leave the funding for drug treatment programs in place.
The poll then goes into perceptions of Measure 110 that go beyond state law. A majority of respondents, 54%, said they thought Measure 110 increased homelessness in their communities. Another 38% thought the measure has had no impact either way, while 8% thought it decreased homelessness.
On community safety, 33% said they thought Measure 110 makes the community much less safe and 17% said somewhat less safe. Another 30% said safety was about the same, 6% said much safer, and 14% said somewhat safer.
Emerson found that Measure 110 drew it’s strongest support from voters in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, which covers much of Portland. Its strongest opposition lies in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers much of eastern and southern Oregon.
The people behind the poll
The group behind the poll, the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, says it works to educate lawmakers and the public in order to prevent drug use, treat addiction and work toward recovery. The organization’s president and CEO is a man named Kavin Sabet, a former White House drug policy advisor for the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.
The Story’s Pat Dooris spoke to Sabet this week to get a better idea of the genesis behind the poll.
“There’s widespread dissatisfaction with the way that (Measure 110) dollars have been rolled out, the amount of treatment that’s available, and really with the lack of accountability,” Sabet said. “So we decided, why don’t we commission a poll with one of the top New York Times-rated pollsters and … see what happens. And the poll really confirmed what our anecdotal research has shown, which is that Measure 110, in people’s minds, is a failure.”
Sabet opined that the U.S. has had a terrible track record with legalization of drugs, and not just with the recent wave of cannabis legalization. He pointed to alcohol, tobacco and prescription opioids like Oxycontin as major sources of societal harm. Decriminalization of narcotics, he said, is “legalization-lite.”
And Sabet has thoughts about who is behind the push to legalize drugs and how it’s being done.
“The playbook was to legalize medical marijuana, then legalize non-medical marijuana, then legalize psychedelics — which Oregon has done — then decriminalize drugs like heroin and fentanyl, and then legalize those drugs,” Sabet said.
In the same year that Oregon voters passed Measure 110, they passed Measure 109. While it did legalize the use of psilocybin mushrooms in licensed therapeutic settings, it did not legalize them in the same way as recreational marijuana. Retail sales remain illegal.
“Oregon is the perfect case example,” Sabet continued. “Remember, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana … in the 1970s. So that’s not a coincidence … this is part of a very well thought out multi-decade plan by those who want to legalize drugs and the billionaires who are behind it — and the billionaires from both sides of the aisle, Libertarians on the far right and on the far left as well.
“I do think that if Oregon repeals or replaces Measure 110 or continues to have that buyer’s remorse, which is certainly where the momentum is, this could stop the legalization movement in its tracks because this really puts a dent in into those plans of legalization advocates.”
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