This story originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle and is republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. Read more stories at oregoncapitalchronicle.com.
A coalition funded by prominent Oregonians, including retired Nike co-founder Phil Knight, plans to ask Oregon voters in 2024 to roll back some of Measure 110, the voter-passed law that decriminalized the use of hard drugs.
The group, the Coalition to Fix and Improve Ballot Measure 110, announced Monday it had filed two ballot initiatives on Tuesday with the Secretary of State’s Office, and has $700,000 in donations to get them on the ballot.
The move comes amid mounting concerns statewide about Measure 110, which was intended to address the state’s drug addiction problem by decriminalizing use and putting cannabis revenue into addiction programs and services. But since voters passed the measure in 2020, overdoses and fentanyl use have become increasingly apparent on the streets, while the state’s rollout of grants to service providers has been slow.
The group’s intent is not to repeal the measure and to keep funding addictions services while providing incentives for people to enter treatment, Max Williams, a former Republican state lawmaker and former president of the Oregon Community Foundation, said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle.
“I think almost all Oregonians would agree that it’s made things worse,” said Williams, who is leading the coalition. “People are dying, lives are being lost and a number of our communities around the state are less safe. … Frankly, we owe it to the people who are dealing with addiction and their families and our communities to do better.”
What the coalition wants to change is the citation system. Currently, police issue drug users $100 tickets. They don’t have a criminal penalty attached to them but instead are intended to get people into treatment. But they are not effective, Williams said.
“It’s clear that the citation approach isn’t working,” said Williams, a former director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. “Giving somebody a ticket that’s actually less than a parking ticket in most communities isn’t going to motivate a person who is deep in their addiction to try to address this issue.”
The petitions would do the following:
- Prohibit the public use of hard drugs.
- Make possession of deadly drugs like fentanyl, meth and heroin a misdemeanor.
- Replace voluntary treatment with required addiction treatment.
- Prioritize prevention, treatment and recovery instead of prosecution and jail.
- Maintain cannabis taxes to expand prevention, treatment and recovery services.
One of the two petitions also would help police fight drug traffickers, such as higher penalties for repeat offenders involved in manufacturing or delivery of drugs. It’s uncertain which one might qualify for the ballot.
“It’s a way to find a balance between the public health approach and the public safety approach in a way that motivates people into active treatment and recovery and give them the tools and frankly, the communities the tools they need to address their concerns,” Williams said.
The goal is to get people into treatment – not jail – before they commit a serious crime stemming from their addiction and end up in prison, he said. The proposals would automatically expunge misdemeanor drug possession convictions from records after people complete treatment and probation.
To become a reality, one of two things would need to happen. An initiative would need to qualify for the 2024 ballot and pass in the November election next year. Or state lawmakers could change the law in the 2024 short session, eliminating the need for voter approval.
Williams said he would like to see lawmakers take up the issue in February to enact improvements sooner.
Lawmakers have said they expect to see Measure 110 changes come up in the short session. Several legislators are going on a trip to Portugal with advocates, providers and law enforcement to research that nation’s approach to drug decriminalization.
The donations to the coalition will help supporters get the 120,400 valid signatures needed to get either initiative on the ballot by July. Of the $700,000, $300,000 is from Tim Boyle, president and CEO of Columbia Sportswear; $200,000 from Phil Knight; $100,000 from the Goodman family; and $50,000 each from businessmen and entrepreneurs Ed Maletis and Jordan Schnitzer.
Jerrod Murray, one of the chief petitioners, is in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol use. He says public safety and treatment go hand in hand.
“I know firsthand how important it is for public safety and treatment services to work together. The combination of the two saved my life and many other people’s lives who are now in sobriety,” chief petitioner Jerrod Murray, also executive director of Painted Horse Recovery, said in a statement. “I am not advocating for a war on people who use drugs, but I can no longer stand by and pretend that drugs aren’t devastating my community.”
Painted Horse Recovery, based in Portland, works with Native Americans to provide services.
The coalition also has attracted attention outside the Portland area, seen as the poster child for Measure 110’s failure.
“Measure 110 is a problem for both urban and rural Oregon that we should fix with this initiative,” said Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler, a chief petitioner. “Law enforcement, along with professional addiction services, should work together to help people escape the dangerous drugs that are killing our kids, our family members, and our neighbors. We also need to toughen laws against drug dealing. This ballot measure will do both.”
The petition drew an immediate reaction from the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which Measure 110 backers created after the proposal based in 2020. The alliance’s news release included statements from addiction services providers who rely on Measure 110 funding.
They warned that changing the measure would send more people to jail, strain the burdened criminal justice system, increase the risk of overdoses and add “massive uncertainty” to the system.
“Drug treatment only works if the person experiencing it is committed to getting sober,” Katie Nicosia, an addictions medical provider and co-owner of Recovery Works NW, said in a statement. “We need more – not fewer – detox facilities so that people have a place to sober up and make clear-headed decisions about treatment. We just opened a new detox center in Portland with Measure 110 dollars and are opening clinics in S.W. Portland and in Newberg.”
Shannon Jones, CEO of the Oregon Change Clinic, which provides drug counseling, housing and intensive outpatient services funded with Measure 110 dollars, said her organization serves more than 300 people each year and provides housing and treatment at a remodeled an old hotel near downtown Portland.
“We need more outreach, and the entire system needs increased funding and people need a roof over their head for recovery to be successful,” Jones said in a statement. “Arresting and jailing people with addiction means they will end up right back on the street with increased overdose risk and a criminal record that will make the road to recovery that much harder.”