What reducing drug crimes will mean for the criminal justice system

Salem, Ore. — A bill on the governor’s desk would make some drug convictions misdemeanors instead of felonies. Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign it, and tonight, agencies around Jackson County are preparing for the changes, and how it may impact the community.

“It’s a pretty major change,” Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert says.

District Attorney, Beth Heckert says her office has been preparing for the passage of House Bill 2355.

“We’re already gearing up to change our forms over,” Heckert says, “we’re fully expecting the governor to sign the bill.”

The bill which would go into effect immediately upon the governor signing it, would make some drug convictions a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

“If you possess a residue amount, less than a usable quantity, that’s always going to be a misdemeanor, whether it’s heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine,” Heckert says.

Here’s where it gets more complicated: while a less than usable quantity, or residue, will always be a misdemeanor,  a usable quantity will be a misdemeanor the first two times. If you get a third usable quantity drug conviction though, it’s a felony. And if you have a usable quantity and already have a felony conviction on your record, the usable quantity will be a felony the first time around.

There’s also nuances about the amount Heckert says.

“If you possess a certain quantity of the drugs like if you have a gram of heroin or 2 grams of meth or cocaine that will be a felony,” she adds.

“Almost daily we have some sort of incident regarding a controlled substance,” Sheriff Nathan Sickler of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office says.
The Sheriff says it will likely be more labor intensive for the criminal justice system, but that’s not the biggest concern.

“It probably minimizes how devastating drugs can be to an individual,” Sheriff Sickler says, “I think that’s an issue.”

That concern is something Jackson County Community Justice Director Eric Guyer can understand.

“When a person’s looking at a felony or potentially prison, they’re going to be very motivated to participate in treatment,” Guyer says, “the concern is that people won’t have that same motivation, or that same incentive to complete treatment if they are looking at a misdemeanor rather than a felony. ”

And while the bill aims to get drug offenders treatment rather than jail time, how effective it will be in doing that statewide, remains to be seen.

The governor has 30 days to sign the bill. Local agencies are waiting for the official  definition of a “usable quantity”. That amount will be set by the Oregon state crime lab.

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