Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
Portland, OR – February 1, 2021 – One year ago today, decriminalization of drug possession took effect in Oregon. The state’s groundbreaking Measure 110 ballot initiative made Oregon the first state in the nation to decriminalize personal possession of all drugs and greatly expand access to health services. While the robust support infrastructure is still getting off the ground, early results show over 16,000 people have already been able to access services. Additionally, there has been a nearly 60% decrease in the amount of people who have been arrested for any drug offense (approximately 3,700 drug offense arrests in the first 10 months after decriminalization took effect compared to over 9,100 arrests in the same 10-month period of 2020 – specific breakdowns of possession compared to other drug offenses are not currently available).
The Measure 110 campaign was spearheaded by Drug Policy Action, the 501(c)(4) advocacy arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, and passed overwhelmingly by Oregon voters with a 17-point margin in the November 2020 election.
“Because these service numbers are being reported with only about 10 percent of the allocated funding having been distributed so far, and accounting for the time it takes for organizations to expand services once they receive the funding, it’s important to understand these early results represent only a small fraction of what we ultimately expect to see in Oregon,” said Theshia Naidoo, Managing Director of the Department of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “By reducing arrests and increasing access to services, we are ensuring that people are no longer saddled with the life-long consequences of drug arrests—such as the denial of housing, employment, public benefits and more—which have been proven to only worsen health outcomes, and instead are able to get the support they need.”
Over the last year, DPA’s key implementation partner in the state—the Health Justice Recovery Alliance— worked to secure a total of $302 million in funding for harm reduction, treatment, housing, and recovery services over the next two years, including the $31.4 million lawmakers agreed to release ahead of schedule in May of last year. The remaining $270 million is expected to be awarded to community-based organizations throughout the state in the coming months.
“For too long, cruel and racially-motivated drug policies have denied our communities the support they need, robbed them of their freedom and branded people with criminal records that have cheated them of any future opportunities. Oregon is showing us there is another way, and it’s time for other states to follow,” said Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
According to the first round of data from the Oregon Health Authority (based on grant reports from the Access to Care grants that went out last spring and summer—representing the initial $31.4 million previously mentioned—to 67 organizations and 11 tribes and tribal organizations), the funding has been used to:
“Using funds from our Measure 110 grant, we have been able to expand access to substance use treatment, peer support services, harm reduction, and housing to individuals in Southern Oregon. We’ve only had these funds for about six months, and we’ve already reversed over 500 overdoses,” said Renee Yandel, Executive Director of HIV Alliance, a community organization with facilities across southern Oregon, that received Measure 110 grant funds to provide harm reduction services.
“Our community was most targeted and impacted by the racist war on drugs,” said Julia Mines, Executive Director of the Miracles Club in NE Portland and a person in long term recovery. “It tore up our neighborhoods and destroyed whole communities; it was an epic failure. Miracles has been around for close to 30 years, offering a wide variety of program services with a focus on the African American recovery community, and we’ve always been drastically underfunded. We used our Measure 110 grant to pay for two full-time mentors, two part-time administrative staff, and to help pay a portion of two other salaries. We set aside some funds to help community members get their basic needs met, whether that be housing, groceries, a job or something else they need to succeed in their recovery journey.”
“Measure 110 is helping us create a reality where we can offer hope and support proactively. At the Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon we’re connecting people with vital services and support. Policies like Measure 110 could someday be implemented in other places and, in doing so, millions of other people just like me — who once felt hopeless, alone and isolated — could find another path, something good to live for,” said Janie Gullickson, Executive Director, Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon.
Since Measure 110’s passage, a number of states—including Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Kansas—the District of Columbia, and even the United States Congress have introduced bills or launched campaigns to likewise remove criminal penalties for drug possession and increase access to health services. DPA is leading the efforts in D.C. and Congress, while supporting other efforts around the country.
Support for drug decriminalization is at an all-time high, with a recent poll by DPA and the ACLU finding that 66% of Americans now support eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession and replacing them with a new approach centered in public health.
To learn more about drug decriminalization, visit DPA’s Decriminalization Exchange.