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Liberal Oregon U-turns, passes bill to recriminalize hard drugs as overdose deaths skyrocket

Oregon lawmakers have passed a bill that would recriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs as the state struggles to contain its fentanyl crisis.

Oregon lawmakers have voted to recriminalize certain drugs after a surge in overdose deaths resulted in the governor declaring a state of emergency for Portland’s fentanyl crisis – all but ending a flagship liberal policy.

In 2020, a measure to decriminalize small amounts of all drugs and redirect much of the state's marijuana tax revenue to fund grants for addiction services was passed into law under Ballot Measure 110 with 58% of Oregon residents approving the measure. 

Since then, addiction and overdose deaths have skyrocketed in Oregon and nationwide as fentanyl swept across the country.


In August, 56% of Oregonians said they disapproved of the pioneering drug law and both Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation to roll back the controversial measure.

A bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs was passed by the state Senate 21-8 on Friday after the House passed it 51-7 on Thursday.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Tina Kotek, who said in January that she is open to signing a bill that would roll back decriminalization, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. Kotek, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson last month declared a 90-day state of emergency for downtown Portland over the public health and public safety crisis fueled by fentanyl.

"With this bill, we are doubling down on our commitment to make sure Oregonians have access to the treatment and care that they need," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, of Portland, one of the bill’s authors, adding that its passage will "be the start of real and transformative change for our justice system."


The measure makes the possession of small amounts of drugs such as heroin or methamphetamine a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail. It enables police to confiscate the drugs and crack down on their use on sidewalks and in parks. Drug treatment is to be offered as an alternative to criminal penalties.

Additionally, the bill aims to make it easier to prosecute people who sell drugs and increase access to addictive medication. It also makes it easier to obtain and keep housing without facing discrimination for using that medication.

Democratic Sen. Lew Frederick, of Portland, criticized the bill.

"I’m concerned that it (the bill) will attempt to use the same tactics of the past, and fail, only to reinforce the punishment narrative that has failed for 50 years," he said, adding that the measure could move more people into the court system without making them healthier.

Portland private security guard Michael Bock told Fox News last month that fentanyl overdoses rose 533% in Multnomah County, the state's most populous county, between 2018 and 2022. Dealers act with "absolute impunity," he said, and hand out drugs like it is a "7-Eleven."

"They're doing it in schools, they're doing it parking lots, they're doing it in playgrounds, they're doing it at churches, in front of businesses. They're doing it in broad daylight and nothing is stopping it," he remarked.

Bock said the cheap cost of fentanyl at $0.25 a pill has caused a devastating impact on those in his community.

Fox News’ Kristine Parks and Hannah Ray Lambert as well as the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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