Oregon Returns to Failed Approach of Arresting, Jailing People for Possession

Press Release April 1, 2024
Media Contact

Brian Pacheco [email protected]

Salem, OR – Today, Governor Tina Kotek signed House Bill (HB) 4002, which recriminalizes drug possession and doubles down on the failed approach of arresting and jailing people for drug possession, into law. The bill is a disappointing setback for the hard-won progress achieved through Measure 110, the state’s pioneering drug decriminalization law overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2020. It is also a false bill of goods: People struggling with drug use will go to jail and not get treatment.

“Today is not the end, just a detour. While I am saddened by today’s developments, we at the Drug Policy Alliance will continue to advocate fiercely for an evidence-based, health approach to drugs in Oregon and across the United States,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The recriminalization of drugs in Oregon is happening in a difficult national environment where criminal justice reforms at large are under attack by special interests. As politicians learn that criminalization will not solve – and will worsen – the problems that Oregonians care about, opportunities to establish a true health-based drug policy should emerge. Despite this setback, the movement to replace drug criminalization with care continues. We won’t back down until our communities are healthy.”

There is policy on paper, and then there is policy in practice. Oregonians were given a false promise that HB 4002 would use the threat of jail as a way to get people into treatment, but in reality, people will be cycled through the criminal legal system with no meaningful connection to treatment. For many, including in areas of Oregon where services are sparse, “treatment” will mean showing up to an NA meeting and signing a form that they attended.

Most people who will be arrested are unhoused and struggling to meet their basic needs. They won’t be connected to the housing services they most desperately need. HB 4002 will just be a cycle of arrest and release back to the street.

Public defenders and judges have warned that HB 4002 will likely be impossible to implement and will further clog the criminal legal system. Even in jail, drugs are present, effective treatment is limited, and overdose occurs. The risk of overdose death increases after release.

Black, Brown, and poor communities in need of resources will face the consequences of recriminalization, while elected officials rest easy.

“Today, HB 4002 is being touted as a compromise, but we ask, at the cost to whom? It is an unacceptable compromise when we know that there will be disparate impacts on Oregonians of color. It is not enough to monitor the system when we know it is a system that has bias built into it. I fear that we will be back next year, hearing those stories of harm, figuring out how to make our communities whole,” said Jennifer Parrish Taylor, director of advocacy and public policy of the Urban League of Portland.

Drug decriminalization is an important part of public health, but it cannot stand alone. When it comes to public suffering, first and foremost, our communities need more-humane and -affordable housing and shelter. Communities also need more services at the street level, like community-led crisis-response teams and overdose prevention centers, that connect people to care, including addiction services. How people are engaged and connected to services matters; for service providers to be conduits of care, they need more resources and funding.

Currently, there is movement in Vermont, New York, and other places to pass drug decriminalization measures.

To understand what really happened in Oregon and with Measure 110, click here.


About the Drug Policy Alliance 

The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. working to end the drug war, repair its harms, and build a non-punitive, equitable, and regulated drug market. We envision a world that embraces the full humanity of people, regardless of their relationship to drugs. We advocate that the regulation of drugs be grounded in evidence, health, equity, and human rights. In collaboration with other movements and at every policy level, we change laws, advance justice, and save lives. Learn more at drugpolicy.org.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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