Drug possession is set to be a crime again in Oregon as Democrat lawmakers move to tackle a raft of problems linked to addiction.
Under House Bill 4002, possession of a small amount of drugs, including fentanyl and cocaine, will be recriminalised,. Controversially, however, the Bill will also bolster the State’s ‘harm reduction’ policy.
Since Oregon decriminalised the possession of hard drugs in 2020, opioid deaths have trebled, homelessness has risen by more than 20 per cent, and its largest City, Portland, has reported an upsurge in both petty and violent crime.
Announcing the change in direction, Representative Jason Kropf said: “What we’re saying is what is happening on our streets needs to stop and police are going to play a role in that, and the behavioral health system is going to play a role in that.”
And Senator Kate Lieber admitted that the approach taken was a “compromise path”, but claimed it was “the best policy that we can come up with to make sure that we are continuing to keep communities safe and save lives”.
• 2020 opioid overdose deaths total 472.
• 2021 opioid overdose deaths total 738.
• 2022 opioid overdose deaths total 956.
– Oregon Health Authority
However, Republican Representative Kevin Mannix said: “A low-level class C misdemeanor only provides 30 days in jail as an alternative. This is nowhere near the amount of time needed to address addiction.”
And anti-drugs campaigner Max Williams argued: “Anything short of reclassifying deadly drugs as a Class A misdemeanor crime will be inadequate to effectively steer more people into more treatment more quickly.”
Reporting by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found reported overdose deaths from May 2022 to May 2023 rose at least 17.2% in Oregon versus a decline of 0.8% nationwide. Oregon Health Authority & Oversight and Accountability Council
Last year, Governor Tina Kotek, Co-Chair of Portland City Task Force, urged State Congress to amend the law and restore police powers to prosecute those deemed to be drug dealers based on the amount of drugs they possess.
The group also recommended that the City of Portland – the State capital – declare a 90-day “fentanyl emergency”.
Kotek stated: “When it comes to open-air drug use, nobody wants to see that. We need different tools to send the message that that is not acceptable behaviour.”
According to the Task Force’s Livable Neighborhoods Committee, the number of calls reporting drug overdose in Multnomah County has doubled since January 2022. Of those, 36 per cent were made in Portland’s Central City.
In 2023, the UK Government shot down the SNP’s push to decriminalise all drugs for personal use.
Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, addicts would no longer be criminalised for possessing Class A drugs such as cocaine or heroin unless they intend to supply it to others.
The proposals, which repeated calls made by the Scottish Government’s Drugs Deaths Taskforce in 2021, urged the UK Government to devolve powers on drugs legislation or change the law itself.
In September, Glasgow officials approved the introduction of a drug room where addicts can inject themselves without fear of arrest. Once open, it will be the first prosecution-free drug zone in the UK.