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Oregon governor signs bill recriminalizing hard drugs, completing liberal experiment's U-turn

The Governor of Oregon has signed a bill that ends a short-lived liberal policy that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of certain drugs following a surge in overdose deaths.

Oregon has legislatively completed its U-turn on a short-lived liberal policy that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of certain drugs.

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, on Monday signed into law a bill that reverses Measure 110, a 2020 law that voters approved to decriminalize most illegal possession of controlled substance offenses and redirect much of the state's marijuana tax revenue to fund grants for addiction services.

Around 58% of Oregon residents approved the initial measure but 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.


The new law, HB 4002, makes so-called personal use possession 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. It also establishes ways for treatment to be offered as an alternative to criminal penalties by encouraging law enforcement agencies to create deflection programs that would divert people to addiction and mental health services instead of the criminal justice system.

The changes take effect Sept. 1.

In a signing letter, Kotek said the law’s success will depend on "deep coordination" between courts, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and local mental health providers, describing them as "necessary partners to achieve the vision for this legislation.

Oregon House Republican Leader Jeff Helfrich said he supported the governor’s decision and said it was a crucial first step toward addressing the ongoing drug crisis in the state. 

"Republicans stood united and forced Democrats to do what Oregonians demanded: recriminalize drugs," Helfrich said, according to KEZI.

Rep. Tim Knopp, R-Ore., echoed Helfrich’s sentiments and said it brings an end to the liberal experiment although more needs to be done to address the state’s drug crisis. 


"Make no mistake, this bill is not enough to undo the disaster of Measure 110," Knopp said in a statement. "House Republicans are ready to continue the work we started and bring real change to Salem in the next session."

"Now that the Governor has given the recriminalization bill her stamp of approval, we can finally end the chapter on Oregon’s experiment with decriminalizing hard drugs."

"HB 4002 is not a perfect solution; legislators will have much more work to do in upcoming sessions. But it sets a standard for how the state should approach the drug addiction crisis: by empowering law enforcement and our behavioral health systems to work together to help Oregonians struggling with chronic addiction seek life-saving treatment." 

Measure 110 directed hundreds of millions of dollars of the state’s cannabis tax revenue toward addiction services. But the money was slow to get out the door and health authorities, already grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, struggled to stand up the new treatment system, state auditors found. At the same time, the fentanyl crisis began to spark an increase in deadly overdoses.

Those pressures prompted Oregon Democrats to shift their stance on decriminalization policy in recent months.

Kotek, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson in February declared a 90-day state of emergency for downtown Portland over the public health and public safety crisis fueled by fentanyl.

The reversal bill was passed by the state Senate 21-8 after the House passed it 51-7, Democrats have majorities in both chambers. 

Portland private security guard Michael Bock told Fox News in February that fentanyl overdoses rose by 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 they are a "7-Eleven."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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