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Published on April 02, 2024
Oregon Governor Tina Kotek Inks Bill to Recriminalize Hard Drugs, Vows to Enhance Treatment ProgramsSource: M.O. Stevens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, Gov. Tina Kotek put pen to paper on House Bill 4002, marking a shift in Oregon's approach to drug possession. The bill, which directly challenges the voter-approved Measure 110 by recriminalizing possession of small quantities of hard drugs, also aims to expand substance abuse treatment across the state. According to KATU, the new legislation will start to take effect beginning Sept. 1, introducing a new misdemeanor charge that could lead to jail time for offenders.

Kotek, however, emphasized the bill's approach to enforcement, highlighting the discretion it allows counties to offer treatment instead of criminal charges. She stated in a letter, "Implementation of House Bill 4002 will be complex," as obtained by KATU. The governor further instructed the Criminal Justice Commission "to leverage their full authority for deflection programs to use a standardized certification document that is easily identifiable as evidence of a person’s successful completion."

Responding to ongoing debates about the efficacy of Measure 110 since its inception, Kotek acknowledged the need for reform in the state's drug policy. She signaled her intent to address the Criminal Justice Center's Racial Equity Impact Statement, which predicted disproportionate impacts to communities of color, sharing in a statement mentioned by KOIN, "House Bill 4002 will require persistent action and commitment from state and local government to uphold the intent that the legislature put forward: to balance treatment for individuals struggling with addiction and accountability."

Despite declining an interview request from OPB, Kotek's signing letter expressed cautious optimism about the legislation's potential. "Success of this policy framework hinges on the ability to deeply commit to coordination at all levels," as she writes, according to OPB. This involves a collaborative effort among courts, law enforcement, defense attorneys, district attorneys, and local behavioral health providers. The hope is to create a more effective bridge between the justice system and treatment programs for those battling addiction.

The decision to backtrack on Measure 110, which had decriminalized possession of hard drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine after its approval by Oregon voters in 2020, comes at a moment of reckoning in the state. Emphasizing the link between enforcement and treatment, Kotek previously noted in a March press conference, "There are some people who believe that some connection with local law enforcement is a helpful motivator for some folks to get into treatment," underscoring the legislative goal to ensure access to treatment for those in need.