Oregon Recriminalizes Drug Possession

Governor signs legislation backtracking on state's experiment
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2024 6:55 PM CST
Updated Apr 1, 2024 6:35 PM CDT
Oregon Moves Away From Decriminalizing Drugs
Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek speaks during a signing ceremony last month.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
UPDATE Apr 1, 2024 6:35 PM CDT

Gov. Tina Kotek has signed into law a bill to recriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, ending Oregon's first-in-the-nation experiment with decriminalization that was hobbled by implementation issues. In a signing letter, the Democratic governor said the law's success will depend on "deep coordination" among courts, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and local mental health providers, the AP reports. The legislation takes effect Sept. 1.

Mar 4, 2024 6:55 PM CST

Hopes were high in Oregon three years ago when voters approved decriminalizing hard drugs that the result would be fewer addicts in prison and more in treatment. The approach hasn't lived up to the promise, and the legislature has approved a bill making possession of small amounts of hard drugs a misdemeanor carrying up to a six-month jail sentence, the Wall Street Journal reports. "I came into this building two weeks ago knowing that we had to do something," said Democratic Rep. Dacia Grayber, "because the status quo of what we are doing is not working."

It turned out that not many people turned to addiction services, which had been expanded, once the threat of imprisonment was removed. And drug use in public became widespread. Saying that fentanyl use had led to a public health and public safety crisis, the governor, mayor of Portland, and the chair of its county declared a joint state of emergency in January. Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek's office did not comment on whether she'll sign the newly passed bill, but she's said before that she wasn't opposed to restoring criminal penalties for drug possession.

story continues below

Legislative debate included stories about the effect addictions and overdoses have had on lawmakers' loved ones. "I've worked so many overdoses," said Grayber, a firefighter-paramedic. Advocates warned against turning back to the war on drugs, per the New York Times. They've called for increasing investment in affordable housing and drug treatment. "This Legislature did not pass real solutions," said Sandy Chung of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "This is about politics and political theater." (More drug laws stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.