Oregon recriminalizes possession of hard drugs

Governor Tina Kotek repealed the rule enacted in 2020. Offenders can now be sentenced up to six months in prison.

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, signed a law that was approved by the state Congress that will classify the possession of hard drugs, such as methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and heroin as a misdemeanor. Offenders can now receive a sentence of up to six months in prison. The measure will come into force on Sept. 1.

In this way, Kotek revokes the so-called Rule 110 or Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery Act, signed in 2020 by her predecessor, Kate Brown. The goal of recriminalization of these substances is to try to prevent drug addiction as overdose deaths have continued to increase considerably in the state in recent years.

"Courts, Oregon State Police, local law enforcement, defense attorneys, district attorneys, and local behavioral health providers are all critical to these conversations and necessary partners to achieve the vision for this legislation. We must balance local programmatic design with the need to achieve statewide consistency and standardization where appropriate," Kotek said in statements reported by NBC, calling on all state authorities to collaborate in the fight against trafficking and consumption of drugs.

The bill, HB 4002, supported by state legislators from both parties, offers some flexibility for those who are arrested for possessing hard drugs. Offenders may undergo treatment to overcome their drug addiction if they want to avoid going to jail.

Change of popular opinion

In 2020, Oregon called on residents to decide via referendum on a law that was pioneering in the United States: the decriminalization of drug possession. At that time, around 58% of voters sided with the initiative. But, with the passage of time and the serious consequences that arose due to the rule, popular opinion has shifted.

A September 2023 poll by Emerson College Polling found that 56% of voters approved of repealing Rule 110. This change in criteria, regardless of the substantial increase in overdose deaths and drug addiction rates, could have served as a solid argument for Kotek to once again criminalize the possession of narcotics.

'Oregon Returns to Failed Approach'

Four years ago, some organizations showed their strong support for the state initiative to legalize the possession of hard narcotics. One of them was the Drug Policy Alliance, an association whose members claim directly that they "use drugs," as detailed on their website, and whose mission is to "end the drug war."

Through a statement titled "Oregon Returns to Failed Approach of Arresting, Jailing People for Possession," Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director, Kassandra Frederique reacted to the governor's decision to recriminalize the possession of narcotics:

Today is not the end, just a detour. While I am saddened by today’s developments, we at the Drug Policy Alliance will continue to advocate fiercely for an evidence-based, health approach to drugs in Oregon and across the United States. The recriminalization of drugs in Oregon is happening in a difficult national environment where criminal justice reforms at large are under attack by special interests. As politicians learn that criminalization will not solve – and will worsen – the problems that Oregonians care about, opportunities to establish a true health-based drug policy should emerge. Despite this setback, the movement to replace drug criminalization with care continues. We won’t back down until our communities are healthy.