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Oregon’s Legislative Agenda: Drug Decriminalization and Housing in Focus

Written by Luis Ramirez on Dec. 13th, 2023

The Oregon State Legislature will reconvene in January, followed shortly thereafter by a Legislative Short Session. Measure 110, at the forefront after the controversial bill was passed in 2020, decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

“I wasn’t in on the initial conversations, but I do know from talking to my colleagues that we’ll be making some changes,” Democratic Senator Deb Patterson said. “We will have some fixes, but do not know what those will be. It’s still illegal to sell those drugs, so that’ll have to be enforced more vigorously. We also don’t allow people to walk around drinking on the streets, so that’ll be addressed. There are technical fixes and ways to make things move more quickly.”

The law reclassified the possession of these illegal substances into a civil violation, where offenders faced a $100 fine. Offenders avoided jail time by agreeing to participate in a health assessment, calling the statewide Addiction Recovery Center hotline. Alternatively, offenders could work with someone from the Behavioral Health Resource Network.

A committee was formed to help address the law and fallout after three years of having it in place.

“Historically, Measure 110 is an example of how the initiative process can get messed up as the ballot title was misleading,” Republican State Representative Kevin Mannix said. “Some voters thought they were simply allocating marijuana tax dollars for rehabilitation centers. Today, we need to reestablish criminal penalties for drug use, at least in public, so there is an opportunity to at least intervene. There has to be a true impact for street drugs, and law enforcement will need to be able to give them the option. The challenge lies in having sufficient treatment programs, with adequate beds and staff.”

Funds from Measure 110 were rerouted from the Oregon Marijuana Account, which is Oregon’s state tax for cannabis. More than $250 million in grants have been awarded to the measure to help with substance abuse treatment and other services.

Both Democrats and Republicans will also be working on other bills when the session opens up. Locally, Patterson hopes to work with the YMCA to establish a service center in the old Statesman Journal building in downtown Salem.

“Last time around, funding wasn’t available. This time, we aim to secure it,” Patterson said. “The plan is for a multiservice center, built with human services and non-profit resources, to support the community. If fully implemented, the plan includes adding housing to the building. We’ll only get to a couple of bills because it is a short session.”

Patterson is also on the Housing Committee and is working to establish more affordable housing for people.

“I’m trying to get funding for Bridgeway to help with services here in the Salem area,” Mannix said. “They might even have funding that comes before the end of the session. A sobering center is needed in Salem, and we need to get that in place because the city doesn’t have one.”

“The governor wants us to look at the housing issue, and I want us to reconsider the tremendous number of bureaucracies we put on the housing community,” Mannix said. “Where the building process can be expensive, where we artificially require certain features that add to the cost, all of those things need to be reevaluated. We also need to look at the speed at how these processes are given. There could be standard patterns preapproved by the state, and city engineers wouldn’t take 60 days to review them.”

Because this will be an even-numbered year, the short legislative session will last 35 days.

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