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Oregon governor will sign bill to recriminalize drugs, expand treatment

Soon after Oregon’s legislative session gaveled to a close, Gov. Tina Kotek announced she plans to sign legislation that makes possessing small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine and fentanyl a criminal offense once again.

House Bill 4002 sped out of committee and through both the Oregon House and Senate in less than a week. Despite the misgiving of many lawmakers, the bill received overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans. It’s an overhaul of Measure 110, the voter-backed 2020 policy change, that decriminalized drugs and allocated funding to expand services to help people living with addiction.

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, shown at a press conference in Portland in this Jan. 30, 2024 file photo, has announced she will sign House Bill 4002 and end the drug decriminalization experiment approved by the voters with the passing of Measure 110.

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, shown at a press conference in Portland in this Jan. 30, 2024 file photo, has announced she will sign House Bill 4002 and end the drug decriminalization experiment approved by the voters with the passing of Measure 110.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

There was little question about whether Kotek, a Democrat, would sign the legislation. Still, the governor’s office remained tight-lipped throughout the legislative debates, saying only that she would review a bill only after it reached her desk. The governor’s announcement offers certainty that Oregon’s drug decriminalization experiment is over.

“As Governor, my focus is on implementation,” Kotek said in a statement released late Thursday. “House Bill 4002 will require persistent action and commitment from state and local government to uphold the intent that the legislature put forward: to balance treatment for individuals struggling with addiction and accountability.”

The governor said her office would be particularly focused on estimates from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. As the governor noted, the state agency “projected disproportionate impacts to communities of color and the accompanying concerns raised by advocates.”

Those figures suggest 1,333 new convictions every year for people whose only criminal charge is possessing a small amount of an illicit drug such as methamphetamine, fentanyl, or cocaine, according to the Criminal Justice Commission.

The commission also estimates that 533 people per year could receive jail sentences after having their probation for a drug charge revoked. The commission notes some of those could also be served in a treatment facility, but at least so far Oregon has not been able to provide treatment to everyone who wants it.

Members of the Oregon Senate talk on the Senate floor Friday at the Capitol in Salem, Ore. The Senate approved House Bill 4002, which passed yesterday in the House. Sen. Kate Lieber (center, standing) a Democrat from Portland, was one of the architects of the bill. Sen. Tim Knopp (seated in front of Lieber), a Republican from Bend and the Minority Leader, said the bipartisan bill was a response to the will of Oregonians.

Members of the Oregon Senate talk on the Senate floor Friday at the Capitol in Salem, Ore. The Senate approved House Bill 4002, which passed yesterday in the House. Sen. Kate Lieber (center, standing) a Democrat from Portland, was one of the architects of the bill. Sen. Tim Knopp (seated in front of Lieber), a Republican from Bend and the Minority Leader, said the bipartisan bill was a response to the will of Oregonians.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Lawmakers have stressed the bill prioritizes treatment, but the system is complex. Across the state it will look different depending on whether counties have agreed to deflect people found with drugs from the criminal justice system into treatment following an encounter with law enforcement. The bill would make possessing small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 180 days in custody. Lawmakers are also expanding funding for treatment and will make it easier for prosecutors to charge drug dealers.

In the months leading up to this year’s session, the drumbeat for overhauling Measure 110 grew. In September, a group of political leaders backed by some of Oregon’s wealthiest business owners, announced they would push a ballot measure of their own to recriminalize drugs and overhaul Measure 110. That added to the pressure on lawmakers to act. Last week, the Coalition to Fix and Improve Ballot Measure 110 said HB 4002 achieved 85% of what it wanted and the group would withdraw its ballot initiatives if the governor signed it.

Going into this year’s legislative session, Kotek signaled she would be open to a bill that recriminalized drug possession, but added she was more interested in opportunities to get people treatment.

“I want to see a proposal that answers a set of questions,” Kotek said in late January. “One piece will be criminalization, but if we just look at criminalization in isolation, I think it’s missing the point. So my question is going to be … what else are you going to do different to make sure we have better outcomes?”

In her statement Thursday, Kotek didn’t specify exactly when she would sign the legislation other than sometime during the next 30 days.

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