Alanna Mayham

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Oregon lawmakers passed a bill package on Friday that recriminalizes small quantities of hard drugs while increasing treatment resources and pathways to avoid lingering charges for drug possession.

Oregon lawmakers introduced House Bills 4002 A and 5204 — known collectively as the “Oregon Drug Intervention Plan” — to roll back Measure 110, which decriminalized small quantities of hard drugs back in November 2020.

HB 4002, in particular, passed through Oregon’s Senate and House of Representatives this week following months of controversial closed-door and public hearings held by the state’s Joint Committee on Addiction and Community Safety Response.

“We must take action,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, a Democrat from Beaverton and co-chair of the joint committee, in a statement. “The drug crisis is killing Oregonians and threatening the health and safety of our communities. The Oregon Drug Intervention Plan is a treatment-focused approach that gives providers and law enforcement the tools they need to keep people safe and save lives.”

Passing with a 21-8 vote in the Senate, HB 4002 reflects a bipartisan compromise that would make small drug possession an unclassified misdemeanor with a jail sentence up to six months. It also requires the conviction of anyone who sells a controlled substance near a public park, temporary residence shelter or treatment center while encouraging counties to establish a drug treatment deferment program instead of placing people in jails.

As of Friday, 23 Oregon counties have committed to providing a deflection program that would allow law enforcement to give a direct referral to a treatment provider in lieu of sending someone to jail. Without a deflection option, anyone caught with hard drugs would be given multiple routes to avoid jail time through various probationary periods and connections to treatment. Any drug charges acquired would be automatically sealed or expunged within three years.

Amongst other things, HB 4002 also intends to expand access to medications that treat substance use disorders in jail while providing more certified behavioral health clinics that address both mental health and substance abuse needs.

“Republicans stand united with Oregonians who overwhelmingly believe we deserve better than Measure 110,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, a Republican from Bend, in a statement. “In this historic vote to reimpose criminal penalties for drug possession, we are making it clear that Oregon is no longer a drug tourism state.”

Passing with a 27-3 vote, HB 5204 will provide $211 million to “shovel-ready” behavioral health treatment projects, deflection programs, training programs and other initiatives set forth in HB 4002, including drug prevention curriculum intended for Oregon’s schools.

However, critics of the legislature’s repeal of Measure 110 say that recriminalizing drugs will disproportionately impact people of color and increase pressure on Oregon’s shortage of public defenders.

“Today, HB 4002 is being touted as a compromise, but we ask at the cost to whom?” said Jennifer Parrish Taylor, director of advocacy and public policy for the Urban League of Portland, in a statement. “It is an unacceptable compromise when we know that there will be disparate impacts to 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.”

A similar sentiment came from Tera Hurst, executive director for the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, who called HB 4002 a profoundly flawed bill for its requirement of monitoring law enforcement interactions for the racial and demographic disparities its expected to produce.

“Now, instead of focusing all our efforts on fighting for overdose prevention, treatment and crisis outreach, we must also work to lessen the damage that HB 4002 will cause,” Hurst said in a statement. “The impact of disparate enforcement on communities of color also means we will need to press both for racial data reporting and greater expansion of funding for culturally specific treatment programs.”

The bill now awaits a signature from Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, who has previously indicated that she is open to recriminalizing drug possession.