MALHEUR COUNTY, Ore. — Possessing a small amount of drugs is no longer illegal in Oregon after 58% of voters backed Ballot Measure 110 in the November election.
Across the state, people will no longer go to jail for possessing small amounts of illicit substances, including hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Instead, they could get a ticket, or they'll have to take a health assessment.
“I was opposed to it but mainly because of my fears for community safety,” Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe said.
Goldthorpe has been the county’s district attorney for a little more than four years now. He told KTVB he’s opposed to the new law because, in his experience, drug use has brought on other crimes.
“I was afraid that other crimes would go up that are associated with drug use, for example, property crimes are a big part of that,” he said.
Under the new law, the state can't force someone to get treatment like they used to be able to do.
“I've actually had people complete our drug court program and treatment and tell me that were they not arrested, they think they would have died,” Goldthorpe said. “You could force someone into detox, essentially by arresting them or taking them to a detox facility, and then a judge could force them into treatment while they’re on probation.”
Goldthorpe isn’t the only law enforcement official opposed to the new law. Ontario Chief of Police Steven Romero also thinks it's a bad idea.
“It's a huge social experiment that the state of Oregon took on,” he said. “I don't believe they're going to get the results they think they're going to get.”
With this new law, Romero believes the state will see an uptick in domestic violence, child abuse and other violent and property crimes.
Some people may be attracted to relocate to Oregon too because the punishment isn't as strict as it is in other states that neighbor Oregon, like Idaho.
Anyone caught with a small amount of illicit drugs could face a fine of up to $100. The amount that is considered "small" varies depending on the drug. For methamphetamine and cocaine, it’s less than two grams. A small amount of heroin would be less than one gram.
LSD and oxycodone are considered small if less than 40 units.
“[It] does nothing to address your drug addiction, does nothing to even steer you towards rehabilitation,” Romero said.
Instead of paying the fine, the offender could also agree to take a health assessment on their drug addiction. However, pursuing treatment would be totally up to them.
“You just have to do the assessment and that's it and then you walk away,” Romero said.
People with either a felony conviction or at least two past drug convictions may face more serious penalties. Laws forbidding the sale or possession of large quantities of drugs remain unchanged.
Those who support the measure say treatment is the way to go when it comes to handling drug addiction, instead of criminalizing it.
“Our current drug laws have not, I mean, it's been a failing system. It's expensive and it ruins lives,” said Janie Gullickson, a supporter of the new law. “A public health approach to addiction is long overdue.”
Part of the law also says that addiction recovery centers will be available to help treat people.
Another big issue for Romero though, is the law says the treatment centers shall be established and operational by October 1, 2021.
“It would've made sense to put the infrastructure in place first,” he said.
The funding for the addiction recovery centers comes from legal marijuana sales revenue and potential savings from no longer arresting and prosecuting people for drug possession.
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