PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office on Wednesday released the details of a proposal to outlaw public drug use in Portland, punishable by a fines or jail time.
The proposed ordinance, which Wheeler intends to introduce at a city council meeting next Wednesday, would add “consumption of a controlled substance” to an existing city ordinance that bans the public consumption of alcohol.
Wheeler’s office indicated that the city code would not directly contradict Measure 110, approved by Oregon voters in 2020, which decriminalized user amounts of drugs. Instead of criminalizing possession, the new ordinance would ban the public injection, ingestion or inhalation of controlled substances like fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and meth.
Specifically, the ban would apply to public property, streets, sidewalks or on the public right-of-way. Violations would be punishable by fines of up to $500 or up to six months in jail, to be determined by the courts.
The proposed changes to city code specifically say that it is the city’s intent “that alternatives to criminal punishment may be imposed whenever practicable for any violation,” although it’s not entirely clear how that would work in practice.
“This ordinance would amend our public consumption of alcohol ordinance to include controlled substances and outline clear and familiar expectations,” Wheeler said in a statement. “This is a commonsense approach. We must make it clear that people cannot use drugs in public spaces. I appreciate that this ordinance has support from the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, and it will take all of us working together to make the kind of systemic change our city needs.”
Wheeler’s office asked that Portlanders not call 911 to report someone using drugs in public “unless there is an immediate life or safety concern.” They instead directed concerned parties to call 311 for help with non-emergency reporting.
Response times for non-emergency calls in the Portland area have been notoriously long for several years now, if a response occurs at all, due in large part to increased call volume and staffing shortages among dispatchers, police, firefighters and paramedics.
At Wheeler’s direction, Portland police have been conducting foot patrols in areas of downtown known for drug dealing and overdoses, so it’s more likely that the ordinance would see use in interactions like those.
In an FAQ accompanying their statement, the mayor’s office obliquely addressed whether someone experiencing an overdose would receive a criminal citation. They said that the “top concern” would be administering Narcan and connecting them with medical help, but otherwise did not indicate whether the person would be cited.
The proposed ordinance includes a carve-out for people taking prescribed medication in public, just as existing code allows for drinking alcohol in public at permitted bars, cafes or community events.
© 2023 KOBI-TV NBC5. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.