Lawmakers unveil plan for drug policy overhaul, tweaks to Measure 110

Jamie Parfitt, Blair Best (KGW)

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — After weeks of testimony and deliberation, Oregon lawmakers on a special joint committee released their framework Tuesday for legislation meant to address the state’s drug crisis and roll back drug decriminalization under 2020’s Measure 110.

Faced with mounting substance use and a rise in overdoses, the legislature formed the Joint Interim Committee on Addiction and Community Safety Response in October to gather ideas about what the state can do to change public policy and better address these issues.

Measure 110, the voter-approved ballot initiative which decriminalized user amounts of drugs statewide, has received mounting blame for the state’s failure to address substance use and addiction. It became law at a time when the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and stronger varieties of methamphetamine were becoming increasingly ubiquitous on the streets.

RELATED: A majority of Oregonians want to see Measure 110 tossed aside, poll finds

With the 2024 legislative session set to begin in just under two weeks, the framework released Tuesday by Democrats on the committee represents the core concepts of a bill or multiple bills, without yet being written into bill form.

“We need to urgently expand drug treatment and addiction prevention in our state while stopping drug dealers, confiscating hard drugs, and cleaning up trash and graffiti,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D-Beaverton), co-chair of the joint committee. “We won’t solve this problem overnight, but this plan will get people the help they need, clean up our communities, and save lives.”

Under the framework, Measure 110 would not be repealed, but drug decriminalization would be effectively ended. As things currently stand, being caught in possession of user amounts of drugs can earn a Class E violation — a ticket for $100 at most, which can be waived if the person fined contacts a substance use helpline. The new proposal would change that to a Class C misdemeanor, the lowest-level misdemeanor crime under Oregon law.

Class C misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail, a $1,250 fine or both. The framework adds that someone charged with possession would have a defense against the charge if they completed a behavioral health screening and case worker intervention, called a “deflection program,” or would have a defense if they were not given the opportunity to complete such a program.

The proposal would also close a loophole created by an Oregon Court of Appeals decision in 2021, overturning the 1988 case State v. Boyd, which established that “holding evidence of possession with intent to sell, alone, was insufficient to establish the crime of delivery of a controlled substance.” The ruling substantially raised the bar for law enforcement and prosecutors in trying to prove that someone was trafficking drugs.

Certain drug delivery offenses would also earn a higher sentence if made within 1,000 feet of certain locations, within a public park, within 500 feet of a homeless shelter, or within 500 feet of a drug treatment center if the sale was to someone receiving treatment.

The framework also lengthens certain involuntary behavioral health holds from 48 to 72 hours. This applies to an “incapacitated person” at a treatment facility or sobering center, and for a welfare hold of a “visibly intoxicated person” brought to a treatment facility by a police officer.

Other aspects of the framework seek to increase access to behavioral health care and drug treatment programs, as well as requiring the state’s Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission to study barriers to youth drug treatment, medication-assisted treatment in emergency departments, and credentials for drug treatment providers. The study and a strategic plan on youth treatment would need to be delivered to the legislature by Sept. 2025.

The Republican option

The committee’s framework contains a few of the same elements as a draft bill brought forth by Republican lawmakers earlier this month, but differs substantially in how much it would transfigure Measure 110. Some of the authors of the Republican bill also serve on the joint committee.

RELATED: Oregon House Republicans propose bill that would effectively end Measure 110

Both bills address the Boyd loophole, lengthier sentences for drug dealers, longer involuntary holds and re-criminalization of drugs. But the Republican bill would make drug possession a more serious Class A misdemeanor, require completion of a full drug treatment program instead of a deflection program in order to avoid jail time, and would dismantle and fundamentally remake the way that drug treatment funding is distributed under Measure 110.

Notably, the committee’s framework does not mention criminalization of public drug use, something that the Republican bill would do.

In a statement released Tuesday, Republicans derided the committee’s proposal as “Measure 110 lite” and made clear that they feel little ownership over the committee’s final product, despite having members involved in the process.

“Oregonians have made it abundantly clear: we must reestablish hard drug use as a Class A misdemeanor so that rehabilitation treatment can be required. The current system does not include such power and a low-level Class C misdemeanor only provides 30 days in jail as an alternative. This is nowhere near the amount of time needed to address addiction,” said Rep. Kevin Mannix (R-Keizer), a member of the committee. “Our current system is not compassionate. People are hurting. The Legislature has a responsibility to step up and meet this challenge.”

In Oregon, Class C misdemeanors include crimes like petty theft or failure to carry a driver license. Class A misdemeanors include fourth-degree assault, reckless driving and menacing.

‘Utter failures of leadership and policy’

Criticism of the committee’s framework also came from proponents of Measure 110, under the auspices of a coalition called Oregonians for Safety and Recovery. The group includes the ACLU of Oregon and the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, the latter of which originally championed the passage of Measure 110.

“We all want real solutions to the overdose crisis and homelessness,” said Gloria Ochoa-Sandoval, policy and political director at Unite Oregon Action. “But what state lawmakers are proposing is an utter failure of leadership to our communities. Their proposal will make drug addiction and homelessness across our state worse, more difficult and expensive to solve. When they push forward with criminalizing people with substance use disorders — by giving them jail time and fines — the government, our lawmakers, are choosing to inflict harm and violence on vulnerable Oregonians, especially Black, brown, low-income, and rural Oregonians.”

The coalition indicated that it would be folly to introduce criminal charges for drug possession again while Oregon continues to grapple with a shortage of public defenders. Already, the state is under a federal order to release people from jail within 7 days if the court is unable to provide them with a public defender.

RELATED: Oregon’s unrepresented defendants must be released from jail statewide, federal judge rules

Oregon also continues to struggle with a lack of sufficient drug treatment, the coalition said, resulting in a “revolving door” for even those people willing and able to seek help.

“The state failed to implement Measure 110 in a timely manner and now the Legislature proposes to throw out years of work to create new crimes and complicated bureaucracies that will take years to implement,” the coalition said.

Waiting in the wings

While the framework released Tuesday represents the core of what the committee produced, a spokesperson for Senate President Rob Wagner’s office said that there will likely be additional proposals by individual members of the committee, as well as requests made through a separate budget committee.

The budget asks include funding for construction of “shovel-ready” projects that would come online by 2025, funding for local and statewide prevention campaigns, and creation of a task force on regional behavioral health accountability.

Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Ashland) has also proposed expanding medication-assisted treatment in jails, Sen. Chris Gorsek (D-Gresham) has proposed behavioral health workforce apprenticeships and better protections for behavioral health workers, Sen. Kayse Jama (D-East Portland) and Rep. Maxine Dexter (D-Portland) proposed building more recovery housing, and Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) proposed funding for post-plea diversion to specialty courts.

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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