Here’s how Oregon’s drug decriminalization measure is going one year later

Drug decriminalization in Oregon one year later
Posted at 8:34 AM, Feb 18, 2022

Oregon voters passed Measure 110 in November 2020, which decriminalized the possession of all drugs, including cocaine, meth, and heroin. In February 2021, the measure went into effect.

“Now, if you were caught with a small possession amount of drugs you would get a citation and it would look similar to a traffic ticket,” Tera Hurst, the executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, said.

The alliance is an advocacy group working to make sure Measure 110 is fully implemented.

The citation has a phone number on it that directs you to get a health screening. Complete that and the $100 fine is waived.

“We’re decriminalizing small possession of drugs, any kind of drugs. And we are investing marijuana tax revenue, since it’s legal in Oregon, to drug treatment and recovery services so that's really addiction and harm reduction services,” Hurst said.

While it’s still early in implementation, some of the grant money is already hard at work.

“This is kind of a place that people can come, they can actually be under the influence here anytime. It’s just a place they can kind of crash, relax,” Dawn Marks, the program supervisor at Bridges to Change Club Hope, said while giving a tour of the facility.

Club Hope has laundry machines, showers, and plenty of resources to help those who need and want it.

“We offer housing services, behavioral health services, drop-in services,” Hannah Studer, deputy director of Bridges to Change, said. “We received the first round of Measure 110 funding, which is called the Access to Care grant. And under this grant, it was to get money out the door for providers to start providing service.”

About $31.4 million has already been given out to places like this, with a total of $302 million set aside for harm reduction, treatment, and other services over the next two years. That number may fluctuate every two years depending on marijuana tax sales. Advocates said the rest of that $302 million should be given out this year to organizations across the state.

“They are able to find resources on treatment centers, detox, shelters. We can do referrals for all of it. It's a really good place to start even if you're not ready to get clean,” Marks said.

It’s funding Shannon Olive with WomenFirst Transition and Referral Center hopes will help her space, too. She is applying for the second round of grants.

“It would also help us to continue to keep the doors open here. This is a drop-in center where people can come and access the services,” Olive said.

But is it working?

Data from the Oregon Health Authority provided to us by the Drug Policy Alliance shows more than 16,000 people have been helped so far. Of the nearly 11,000 people for whom specific data was reported, almost 60% used harm reduction services such as needle exchanges, and 15% sought help with housing needs. Less than 1% entered treatment.

“The reality is, you can't make anybody stop. You can offer help and support when they’re ready and that's just the realities of substance use,” Hurst said. “Is it perfect? No. Trying to implement a law in the middle of COVID and a global pandemic and it's the first of its kind in the nation.”

“Some people are really looking for decriminalization to lead to sobriety, and what I would say is that decriminalization can lead people to a path where they make the decision of sobriety, but our metric for decriminalization, the way that we evaluate if it’s successful, is if people are no longer criminalized,” Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said.

The nonprofit works to end criminalization associated with drugs and create alternative responses to how we deal with drugs.

What Oregon is doing has attracted interest from other states, too.

“Places like New York have already introduced decriminalization efforts. Vermont has already started holding hearings on decriminalization,” Frederique said, just to name a few.

As time goes on, those working on the issue in Oregon will be able to tell what’s working and what’s not, and adjust accordingly.

“This is a healthcare crisis, this is a public health crisis, this is a justice crisis. So, being able to see slow remedies to the wrongs that have been created for so long is just amazing to see,” Studer said.