Oregon made history by becoming the first state to decriminalize possession of controlled substances when it passed Measure 110 in the 2020 November election. Although the legislation went into effect on Feb. 1, the public has misconceptions around what the measure actually means.
Larry Weinerman, a coordinator at Chrysalis, said a lot of people he’s interacted with think Measure 110 completely legalized all quantities of all drugs. Chrysalis is an outpatient center that focuses on treatment and services for adults struggling with substance abuse in Eugene.
“We're getting calls locally and from people from outside the area and outside the state saying, ‘We're going to move to Oregon because drugs are legalized,’” Weinerman said.
However, the policy only decriminalized — not legalized — a handful of specific substances: LSD, psilocybin, methadone, oxycodone, heroin, MDMA/ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine. Under Measure 110, possessing these substances still results in a punishment, but the penalties are reduced.
Weinerman said if someone gets caught with more than the decriminalized amount of a drug, they will still be arrested and “immersed” in the criminal justice system.
Members of the Eugene Police department said they also noticed the public’s subpar understanding of the law. EPD K-9 officer Joe Kidd said he sometimes interacts with people who possess a large amount of drugs and think Measure 110 protects them from legal trouble.
However,EPD officers have discretion with how they enforce Measure 110 — like they do with other laws. Kidd said officers can either give the offender a ticket or a warning.
EPD officer Justin Peckels said he uses these interactions as an opportunity to start a conversation with and educate the offender.
Once a ticket is issued, Weinerman said that person has two options: pay a $100 fine or call a 24-hour hotline for a screening. If they choose the screening and complete it, the fine will be waived and treatment services will be offered.
Since treatment is not one size fits all, Weinerman said people go to different centers depending on their needs. For example, a heroin addict will likely need to go to a detox clinic, such as Serenity Lane, before they begin treatment.
Weinerman also stressed the importance of culturally specific treatment for marginalized people impacted by the war on drugs.
“If you’re Latinx, you'll be sent to El Centro,” he said, pointing to the non-profit Centro Latino Americano, which provides drug rehabilitation services. “If you're African American, you'll hopefully go to an African American group or a group that has a culturally sensitive and specific program for you.”
According to a 2019 study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Oregon has one of the highest substance abuse rates in the country. Oregon ranked third in the U.S. for percentage of teens and adults with substance abuse disorder; with only Colorado and Vermont ranking higher.
In 2020, the Oregon Health Authority reported a 70% increase in drug deaths from the previous year. It’s unclear whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic factored into this increase, the report said.
Oregon hasn’t sent out funding for Measure 110, but Chrysalis and similar groups are pushing for legislation to get money out into Oregon communities sooner. Weinerman said that roughly $300 million from the state is forecasted to be available in the next two years.
Weinerman said most of the money will go toward marginalized groups who are most negatively impacted by the war on drugs. The funding will go toward services such as housing, employment help and self harm reduction. Since these services were never billable before, agencies that provided them weren't reimbursed, making the funding that much more important.
“This opens up brand new venues of being able to provide what really is needed, that we had no way to pay for in the past,” Weinerman said.
Since Oregon is the first state to decriminalize controlled substances, Weinerman said Measure 110 is a test run for similar legislation nationwide. Groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance are pushing for similar laws on a national scale. States will see what works and what doesn’t when they're deciding on legislation — similar to the legalization of marijuana, Weinerman said.
“We'll make a lot of mistakes,” Weinerman said. “We have made some mistakes. Hopefully, the next states will learn from us and do it better than we're doing.”