Will recriminalizing hard drugs reduce public use?

Will recriminalizing hard drugs reduce public use?

Will recriminalizing hard drugs reduce public use?

Oregon's period of the decriminalization of the possession of hard drugs is now ending, but an advocate of individual liberty and personal responsibility doesn't think much will change.

John Charles, president and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, says Governor Tina Kotek (D) has signed House Bill 4002 into law to undo the effects of 2020's Ballot Measure 110.

"There are some parts of it that are good, some that are not so good," he says of HB 4002. "I think it was pretty overwhelming; the political view of both parties was that Measure 110 from 2020 needed to be modified, so they did, and they have recriminalized small possession of personal hard drugs."

Under this legislation, individuals caught with small amounts of cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamines, and similar substances will face misdemeanor charges.

Though the new law encourages deflection programs, which will let law enforcement divert people to addiction and mental health help instead of sending them into the criminal justice system, this move aims to address the ongoing opioid crisis that has plagued the state – an issue many believe has been exacerbated by the lack of legal consequences for drug users.

Charles, John (Cascade Policy Institute) Charles

"Legal possession, I don't think, was the problem," Charles submits. "I think it was dealing with the social externalities of public use. There are a lot of things Oregonians are tolerant of if you're in your own home engaging in some activity and not harming anyone else, but what's happened since 2020 was an explosion of public use."

That resulted in a lot of criminal or nuisance behavior, especially in downtown Portland.

Even with the new misdemeanor category, Charles says there are multiple chances for people caught with drugs to avoid that criminal designation. He does not personally see the rationale of harassing people for mere consumption and wanted lawmakers to focus on public consumption because, in his view, that is what really bothers people and creates these social externalities.

He also points out that a remaining unresolved issue is that the advocates for Measure 110 really played up addiction recovery four years ago; that is how they sold it.

"But their implementation hasn't ever really focused on addiction recovery," says Charles. "It's focused on what's called harm reduction," and much of the money that has been spent since then has been withheld from groups that are nonprofit organizations that would impose things like sobriety for housing of supportive employment.

Putting aside the question of whether possession should be criminalized, he says the other part of it is how to get people to change their behavior, which has never really been an emphasis of the law.

"I don't see it changing," Charles adds. "I think there will continue to be sort of an enabling approach rather than an addiction recovery emphasis."

The next five years will tell.

The new law is set to go into effect September 1st.