Oregon does U-turn, recriminalizes drugs after upswing in overdose deaths

The high times are over in Oregon.

Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek signed legislation Monday to recriminalize the possession of small amounts of certain drugs as the state grapples with a major overdose crisis, ending a legalization experiment backed by voters four years ago.

The new law makes keeping drugs such as heroin or methamphetamine a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. It also enables police to confiscate the drugs and crack down on their use in sidewalks and parks.

Back in 2020, voters backed Measure 110, which made minor possession of personal-use amounts of certain drugs a non-criminal violation on par with receiving a traffic ticket.

Gov. Tina Kotek insisted that drug enforcement won’t be business as usual after recriminalizing illegal possession. AP

It took effect in February 2021, making Oregon the first state to officially decriminalize minor drug possession.

Since then, the Beaver State has seen a significant uptick in homelessness, homicides, and overdose deaths.

In 2020, unintentional opioid overdose deaths clocked in at 472 and hit at least 628 in 2023, according to state data.

In 2022, Portland set a new record for murders with 101 — breaking the mark of 92 set the previous year.

Oregon became the first state in the country to formally experiment with drug decriminalization three years ago. REUTERS

Portland police officer David Baer holds up a blue oxycodone pill. REUTERS

Back in January, Kotek declared a fentanyl state of emergency in the city, saying at the time: “Our country and our state have never seen a drug this deadly and addictive, and all are grappling with how to respond.”

The new law, which will take effect Sept. 1, will let local law enforcement decide whether to give violators the chance to pursue treatment before booking them into jail

Another bill Kotek signed Monday, Senate Bill 5204, allocates $211 million to mobilize resources for behavioral health and education programs, including expanded access to substance abuse treatment and prevention education.

President Joe Biden and Tina Kotek order ice cream, AP

“Success of this policy framework hinges on the ability of implementing partners to commit to deep coordination at all levels,” Kotek emphasized in a letter to legislative leaders.

The governor further called on the Department of Corrections to ensure a “consistent approach for supervision when an individual is released” from detention and to “exhaust non-jail opportunities for misdemeanor sanctions.”

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