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Ore. cities, PD chiefs and sheriffs seek to recriminalize hard drug possession

A letter states that legislation that decriminalized personal hard drug possession did not take the fentanyl crisis into account as a public health and safety issue


Walter Arce/Dreamstime/TNS

By Joanna Putman

SALEM, Ore. — The League of Oregon Cities has joined the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon District Attorney’s Association in calls to repeal a ballot measure decriminalizing hard drug possession, OPB reported.

Ballot Measure 110, which was passed in 2020, legalized personal possession of small amounts of hard drugs. Rather than charging people with a crime when found to be in possession of drugs, police are supposed to give them citations and connect them with recovery resources.

Court precedent set since the measure’s passing also makes putting drug dealers in jail more difficult, according to the report. For decades, law enforcement could win convictions for delivery if a person was merely caught with an incriminating amount of drugs.

A 2021 lower court ruling that the Oregon Supreme Court upheld last month held that in order to get a drug dealing conviction, police and prosecutors must prove that the suspect actually attempted to complete a sale.

Oregon cities, sheriffs, chiefs of police and DAs have signed a letter to state lawmakers, calling them to recriminalize hard drug possession when they convene starting in February, according to the report.

“As your partners in public safety, we believe that Ballot Measure 110 failed to recognize that drug addiction is both a public health and public safety crisis and requires solutions on both sides of the ledger,” the letter, obtained by OPB, reads.

The letter lists 11 proposals “designed to address Oregon’s severe addiction crisis, the alarming rise in fentanyl overdose-related deaths,” which are having “detrimental effects” on “community safety and quality of life across our state,” according to the report.

The proposals would make drug possession a Class A misdemeanor, with the opportunity to have the charge dismissed if the suspect completes the required treatment. It also introduces the idea of an up to 72-hour “wellness hold,” requiring the suspect to stay in a medical facility.

State lawmakers and Gov. Tina Kotek have stated they will also prioritize a “legal fix” for court precedent in order to help law enforcement and prosecutors go after drug dealers, according to the report.

“All these strategies need to work hand in hand,” Sam Chase, director of Portland’s Office of Government Relations, said. “But we have to have those tools for our public safety officials to be able to address [Oregon’s drug] crisis.”