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Oregon PDs see increase in drug possession tickets following landmark decriminalization law

People with small amounts of methamphetamine, heroin and LSD are subject to non-criminal violations and given the choice to call a statewide hotline or pay a $100 fine


Portland Police Bureau bike patrol holds tin foil containing what is believed to be a fentanyl pill in Old Town on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, after making an arrest. Officers from Portland’s Central Precinct bike squad said fentanyl is the drug of choice in the city’s Old Town neighborhood. Many of the people they stop are found with crumpled tin foil containing residue of cut-up counterfeit blue M30 pills with fentanyl. They light the pills and inhale the fumes to get high, according to investigators. Portland Officer David Baer, who is on the bike patrol, said just a year ago he’d encounter black tar heroin and methamphetamine. But now, he said, “the overwhelming majority of the drugs I see daily are fentanyl-related.”

Vickie Connor

By Noelle Crombie

PORTLAND — Portland police are on track to issue more tickets for drug possession this month than any previous month since Oregon’s landmark decriminalization law went into effect in early 2021, according to the data from the Oregon Judicial Department.

The latest statistics show Portland police issued 36 tickets in the first eight days of May, doubling the number of citations officers handed out in April.

Portland police leaders say they have begun citing people for drug possession as part of targeted enforcement efforts in areas, including the Central Eastside, Old Town and parts of downtown, where open drug use remains a stubborn problem.

Police attention on specific areas scatters drug activity, said Capt. James Crooker, a Central Precinct leader.

“We realized that there was no one focal location for the drug dealing anymore,” he said. “So we started doing walking beats in order to ensure that it didn’t sort of reinvent itself in Old Town or in any of the places that we fought so hard to to get cleaned up and part of the walking beats is to issue citations for drug possession and any other offense that they’re able to issue citations for.”

In all, Portland police have issued 419 tickets since the law rolled out in February 2021 — fewer than half the number given out by Grants Pass police. The southern Oregon police department has issued nearly 1,000 tickets, more than any other police agency in the state; Medford ranks second with almost 600.

Measure 110 is a first-of-its-kind policy intended to shift drug addiction away from the criminal justice system and into a public health approach. It decriminalized small amounts of drugs like methamphetamine, heroin and LSD. People found with those drugs are subject to non-criminal violations and given the choice to call a statewide hotline or pay a $100 fine.

Anyone needing help with substance abuse can call the hotline for help: 503-575-3769.

The Oregon Judicial Department says law enforcement officers have issued about 4,450 citations since the law began. Southern Oregon’s Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties have the largest numbers of cases, the data shows.

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Yet the latest data shows that two years in, tickets for drug possession remain a shaky entry point for treatment or treatment-related services among those coping with substance abuse addiction.

According to Lines for Life, which staffs the hotline, just 189 people have completed a screening since the program launched. Of those, 94 wanted a letter showing they had met the citation’s requirements. Another 49 told call takers they were already receiving some treatment services and 46 said they were not in any treatment and wanted help.

Calling the number is one way to resolve the ticket. Paying a fine is the other. State data shows most people who are cited ignore both.

Methamphetamine is by far the most common drug leading to citations among the eight police agencies issuing the most tickets. In Portland, oxycodone is the most often cited drug, the data shows. Is it unclear whether that includes counterfeit fentanyl that’s become so prevalent in Portland and elsewhere in the state and across the country.

Portland got off to a slow start, issuing 110 tickets in the first year of the law’s implementation. The numbers more than doubled last year to 236.

Crooker said officers hand out business cards along with the tickets that carry the 24-hour hotline.

He pointed to the area around Southwest Fourth and Washington Street as a hotspot. The area in recent months had transformed into an open-air fentanyl market with rampant use and trafficking. Police last month descended on the block to clear it.

“The citations are a tool probably being used the most in that area,” he said.

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