Oregon Lawmakers Pass Bill to Re-Criminalize Drugs

Oregon is poised to end its landmark drug decriminalization initiative as lawmakers pass a bill to reintroduce criminal penalties for certain drug possessions, sparking debate over the measure’s impact on treatment access and the justice system.

Full story after the jump.

Oregon’s historic drug decriminalization experiment is likely ending after state lawmakers sent a bill to re-criminalize drug possession to Gov. Tina Kotek (D) for her signature, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

The proposal is supported by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle — House lawmakers voted 51-7 in favor of the measure, and the Senate gave final approval on Friday in a 21-8 vote. Kotek has not said whether she supports the bill but has signaled she would be willing to roll back some of the state’s drug decriminalization initiative, Measure 110, which Oregon voters passed in 2020.

Specifically, House Bill 4002 would establish new criminal penalties including potential jail time for the possession of fentanyl, heroin, and meth. The measure does not seek to recriminalize cannabis, which is legal for medical and recreational use, and would not crack down on the state’s therapeutic psilocybin program.

Decriminalization advocates who oppose the measure are accusing Oregon lawmakers of overriding the will of voters and reinstating racist, drug war policies.

Oregon Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D), who co-wrote the bill, claims the move will help “make sure Oregonians have access to the treatment and care that they need.” But Sen. Michael Dembrow (D) said that lawmakers were too hasty in passing the bill, suggesting that the re-criminalization policy could negatively impact the state’s “already strained courts system.”

“The fundamental flaw with Ballot Measure 110 was that it decriminalized first and only slowly funded, designed and implemented the needed treatment programs. In its current form, there are just too many question marks around its potential to be effective, and particularly to be implemented in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner, around the state.” — Dembrow, via OPB

The governor has until this Friday to decide whether she will sign the bill into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without her signature, the report said.

If Kotek were to veto the proposal, advocates for recriminalizing drugs in the state say they have started organizing a ballot measure that would seek to drastically roll back the decriminalization measure.

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