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Oregon coming around to the realization that drug decriminalization was always a really bad idea
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Oregon coming around to the realization that drug decriminalization was always a really bad idea

Democrats are preparing to take steps to undo some of their failed policies.

Oregon became the first state in the union to decriminalize possession of hard drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine in 2020. This radical experiment in lawlessness has been an unmitigated disaster.

While initially deaf to the concerns raised by Republicans, recovery specialists, and Christian groups concerning Ballot Measure 110, state Democrats are now poised to re-criminalize drug possession and bring their four-year experiment to an end. After all, the majority of Oregonians want the measure repealed.

How it started

The so-called "Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act" eliminated criminal penalties for possession of various quantities of hard drugs. As a result, junkies can now carry one gram of heroin; 2 grams of cocaine; 2 grams of meth; less than 40 user units of methadone; 1 gram or 5 pills of MDMA; less than 40 user units of LSD; and fewer than 40 pills of oxycodone.

Possession of such quantities amounts to a non-criminal Class E violation, which at most can result in a $100 fine or a recommendation for a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional.

Those caught with even more of these once-controlled substances have also seen penalties softened, such that they now face a misdemeanor charge with less than a year in jail, a fine, or both.

Extra to decriminalizing hard drugs, the measure mandated the establishment or funding of recovery centers throughout the state funded by taxes on marijuana.

According to Ballotpedia, the measure was championed by the Democratic Party of Oregon, the ACLU of Oregon, the ACLU, NAACP Portland, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, and various other leftist groups.

"It takes a lot of courage to try something new, and I'm really proud of our sate," Haven Wheelock, a so-called harm reduction specialist who was among the petitioners to file the measure, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. "I'm excited to be a model for other places to show that we don't have to harm people for being sick."

Kevin Barton, the district attorney for Washington County, said, "I am hopeful with this new effort that it will be successful to address addiction, but I think everyone can agree its an experiment."

Measure 110 won with 58.5% of the vote. The decriminalization went into effect on Feb. 1, 2021.

How it's going

In Portland — a Democrat-run city that witnessed an exodus of businesses from its boarded-up and crime-ridden downtown — and across the state, junkies who might previously have been set straight by an arrest are now dying in the thousands.

According to Oregon Health Authority data, fatal overdoses have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2020, there were 824 fatal overdoses. The year M110 went into effect, there were 1,189 fatal overdoses. Preliminary data indicates the number of deaths from overdoses in 2022 was north of 1,100.

Fentanyl is proving especially lethal. OregonLive.com noted that in the year ending September 2019, there were 77 known fentanyl deaths. In the year ending September 2023, there were reportedly 1,268 overdose deaths.

There appears to be a correlation between fatal overdoses and M110.

A University of Toronto study published September in the Journal of Health Economics concluded that "when Oregon decriminalized small amounts of drugs in February 2021, it caused 182 additional unintentional drug overdose deaths to occur in Oregon in 2021."

This accounted for "a 23% increase over the number of unintentional drug overdose deaths predicted if Oregon had not decriminalized drugs."

The promised good associated with M110 has also failed to come to fruition.

Police suggested to OPB that the $100 tickets for possession of fentanyl and other such killer drugs go unpaid and the users never call the treatment hotline number.

"We've talked to exactly two people that have actually called that number," said Sgt. Jerry Cioeta of the Portland Police Bureau.

State auditors revealed that approximately 1% of junkies cited by police called the hotline, reported the Statesman Journal.

Some advocates for the failed policy claim it's too early to know whether it's working.

"We're building the plane as we fly it," Wheelock told the Atlantic. "We tried the War on Drugs for 50 years, and it didn't work[.] ... It hurts my heart every time someone says we need to repeal this before we even give it a chance."

Democratic half-measure

A nonpartisan statewide poll published last April found that 51% of Oregonians believed M110 had proven to be bad for the state. 65% of respondents said M110 made drug addiction worse. 63% said the measure made homelessness worse. 63% said it made crime worse.

With the understanding that the state has failed to adequately make good on its drug treatment programs or distributed cannabis tax revenue while overdoses and criminal activity skyrocketed, 53% of respondents suggested that M110 should be repealed.

An August 2023 Emerson College poll also found that 56% of Oregonians think that M110 should be repealed completely and 50% said it made their communities much less safe.

State lawmakers have introduced various proposals to tweak, replace, or repeal M110.

Democrats are pushing to make small-scale drug possession a Class C misdemeanor offense punishable by a month in jail and a $1,250 fine. Junkies would be afforded the opportunity to beat the charges by instead seeking treatment, reported Reuters.

"It became very, very obvious that what was happening on the streets of Portland, and what was happening on Main Street, Oregon, was unacceptable," said state Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D).

Republicans understand that the proposed legislation, House Bill 4002, signals an understanding on Democrats' part that M110 is ruinous, but say it is altogether toothless.

"We need serious penalties in order to make sure that people are getting into treatment, as opposed to staying on the street," said state Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp.

The Republican-supported Senate Bill 1555 and Senate Bill 1588 would make drug possession a Class A misdemeanor with penalties of a year in jail for drug possession and a $6,250 fine, reported the Statesman Journal. As with the Democratic alternative, junkies under the proposed Republican bills could receive probation instead of jail time if they pursued treatment.

"The Republican bill restores accountability, ushers addicts into treatment, and makes our streets clean and safe again – none of which will be achieved with the majority's proposal," said state House Minority Leader Rep. Jeff Helfrich (R).

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News. He lives in a small town with his wife and son, moonlighting as an author of science fiction.
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