By Representative Rob Nosse
Given that Ballot Measure 110 (BM 110) has received national news coverage every week this summer, I think it’s imperative that I make my thoughts on it clear. This column will be the first part of a two-part series. Next month I will discuss the results of my fact-finding trip to Portugal that I am making with other legislators and community members. Given submission deadlines and the trip happening at the end of October, you might have to wait till December to read about my trip.
I do not support repealing BM 110. It isn’t to blame for what we are seeing on the streets of Portland. Given what I know and see and how people feel about everything that is happening, I am worried about how that lands. Let me try to explain my thoughts a little.
As a reminder, the measure made the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs a lower-level violation, while establishing a statewide fund with cannabis tax dollars for treatment and recovery services. The bulk of the money was set aside for each county to set up more treatment and support options to help people overcome addiction via behavioral health resource networks. Oregon voters acknowledged that the 50-year war on drugs had not worked, and it was time to try something different. 58 percent of the state’s voters supported BM 110 in the November 2020 election.
The goal of BM 110, to provide more treatment and recovery services while getting those suffering with addiction out of the criminal justice system, is something I still stand by. But that doesn’t mean the law is perfect, and it does not excuse the poor rollout of BM 110. The services and supports finally got started this summer. Adding to all this tumult is the fact that local police have not really issued citations for people using drugs in public. Instead of making arrests, BM 110 empowers police to issue $100 citations that the defendant can waive by seeking treatment. I’ll talk more about this another time as the police have a point about this approach that I need to concede.
Here is the thing: Its passage coincides with our nation seeing an explosion of a deadly new addiction to fentanyl and P2P methamphetamine, while the entire west coast is experiencing a housing and homelessness crisis. Yes, overdoses have significantly increased in Oregon. But overdoses have increased in every western state and across the South. Seattle is also dealing with the same things we are and no comparable law to BM 110 exists in Washington.
Repealing BM 110 will not change our homeless crisis. It won’t change the fact that police are not showing up to your 911 call. It won’t prevent you from seeing groups of people on the street dealing and using drugs–though we do need to address that problem. Treating addiction is a complicated and multifaceted issue. For decades, we’ve dealt with addiction like a criminal justice problem. But addiction is a public health issue and should be treated as such. A housing shortage, a lack of investment in mental and behavioral health services and the arrival of very powerful and addictive drugs have caused a perfect storm. Going back to the old ways of doing business won’t stem those tides.
In November, it will be three years since BM 110 passed and about one year since treatment services were fully funded. Portugal enacted drug decriminalization in 2001 and has had its system in place for over 20 years. As overdose death rates skyrocketed across the world over the past few years, Portugal’s grew at a much lower rate. Their death rate is less than half the rest of Europe and dramatically lower than the US. But we’ve also seen in Portugal what happens when they reduce funding for voluntary treatment–public drug use started to increase.
As we all work to deal with the homelessness and drug crisis in Oregon it’s important to see what lessons can be learned–and shared–between the two areas of the globe that are taking a public health approach to the addiction crisis. I am excited to be part of an Oregon delegation going to Portugal to meet with public health officials, law enforcement and people with lived experience to figure out what we could do differently. I will absolutely report back what I learn.
In closing, while I will stick up for BM 110, I’m not blind to what’s happening. The roll out took too long. We should have set up all the services and supports–first, before decriminalization–and we need to address the open drug use on our streets and on public transportation. I am supportive of what the City of Portland is asking the legislature to do, and I will continue to work to find ways to support local governments to prevent open drug use and crime. Like I always say, stay tuned, as this is probably all I will talk about until the “short session” starts in February and concludes in early March of 2024.