It might be too soon to see exactly what direction things are trending in Oregon after the decriminalization of these drugs.
At the close of 2020, Oregon became the talk of the country for a significant change in how drug addiction and treatment are handled. The adoption of the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, or Measure 110, has now been in effect since February 2021. With almost two years of real-life experimentation, many people are reflecting on the lessons learned and the challenges that have come into play. Here’s how drug decriminalization in Oregon has been shown to be a dangerous legal experiment.
A Fair Assessment
While many people might assume Oregon has decided to remove any drug-related laws in the state, it’s important to understand what Measure 110 is all about, especially from the assessment Oregon provides. According to the Oregon Health Authority, Measure 110 is about making drug addiction treatment and recovery services more readily available to everyone who wants to access those services. Based on its philosophy, making drug addiction treatment more available requires removing the criminal elements associated with drug addiction.
For example, Measure 110 decriminalizes drug possession in Oregon, making it no longer a criminal offense, including hard drugs like heroin. What’s especially interesting is that the treatment and recovery programs that Measure 110 provides are funded by Oregon’s state marijuana tax and the perceived savings from prison sentencing.
To be clear, drug use has not been outright banned from Oregon’s legal system altogether. One example is the possession of heroin, cocaine, and meth, which used to be a Class A misdemeanor. Now, these drugs are Class E violations, and they can either be charged as a $100 fine or a health assessment. However, these are also based on whether the amount the individual has is within the personal-use limit. This paints a different picture from the assumption that all drugs are now legal in Oregon. Yet, it also emphasizes just how limited police are regarding any kind of enforcement of drug use in public places, which causes safety concerns for many.
Because the debate about drug decriminalization is heavily politicized in America, there are opinions of every sort based on almost two years of data available to us after Measure 110 went into effect. However, while the issue is still debated, some facts can be taken away from the data available. First, one report from February 2022, a year after Measure 110 went into effect, less than 1 percent of those helped with the Measure 110 funding entered drug addiction treatment. The idea was that if Oregon removed the criminal elements of drug possession and focused the savings toward providing state-funded access to drug addiction recovery, more people would spend time recovering from addiction rather than serving jail time and being hit with fines for drug use. At least one year in, increased treatment does not seem to be trending in a positive direction.
According to RTI International, several Measure 110 claims are important to note. First, funding was not awarded for drug treatment until August 2022, more than 1 ½ years after the decriminalization of drug possession went into effect. Second, there have been no significant increases in 911 calls after the passing of Measure 110. This comes with the concern that drug decriminalization would lead to trends of increased property damage and violence.
Thus far, this has not seemed to be the case. However, others have expressed contrary views, including Oregon law enforcement officers. While RTI cited “seasonal” increases in crime rates, Oregon police officials cite an overall increase in crime, especially in the Portland area. While there is no direct evidence that Measure 110 is the cause, many are willing to attribute the increase in crime to Measure 110 rather than seasonal increases. Since officials cannot attribute crimes to drug possession and use, they are concerned that now they must wait until people commit more serious crimes to fuel their decriminalized drug addiction, such as property damage, theft, breaking and entering, and assaulting civilians.
A Social Experiment—For Now
Debates still exist as to whether jail time is motivational or antithetical to drug recovery. The current funding for detox and recovery services in Oregon from Measure 110 is set to expire in December 2023, with extension approvals dating all the way to June 2025.
It might be too soon to see exactly what direction things are trending in Oregon after the decriminalization of these drugs, but until there is a significant increase in treatment and recovery, the prevalence of hard drugs will continue to be the norm for Oregonians.
Oregon Health Authority (n.d.). Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (Measure 110). Retrieved https://www.oregon.gov/oha/hsd/amh/pages/measure110.aspx
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.).Oregon Drug Decriminalization 2020: Will This Make Addiction Problems Worse? https://delphihealthgroup.com/blog/oregon-drug-decriminalization/
KTVL CBS News 10. (2022 May 10). Policing Changes and Measure 110: Drugs Still Aren’t Legal. Retrieved https://ktvl.com/news/local/policing-changes-and-measure-110-is-the-problem-being-solved
OPB. (2022 February 14). Few obtain treatment in the first year of Oregon drug-decriminalization grants. Retrieved https://www.opb.org/article/2022/02/14/oregon-drug-decriminalization-measure-110-grants-treatment-recovery-services/
RTI International. (n.d.). Building the Evidence: Understanding the Impacts of Drug Decriminalization in Oregon. Retrieved https://www.rti.org/impact/oregon-drug-decriminalization
Fox News Oregon. (2022 July 15). Some in Local Law Enforcement Say Measure 110 is Backfiring. Retrieved https://www.kptv.com/2022/07/15/some-local-law-enforcement-say-measure-110-is-backfiring/
Oregon Department of Human Services. (2022 September 30). Measure 110 Oversight and Accountability Council to offer Measure 110 grant extensions through June 2025. Retrieved https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/ORDHS/bulletins/32fe61d#:~:text=The%20OAC%20approved%20a%20proposal,to%20expire%20in%20December%202023.