© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Fleeing from a Free-for-All

Over the past year, I’ve written about the decriminalization of two of the biggest problems facing the residents of the Portland metropolitan area and Oregon—drug use and homelessness. Now, some people are hoping to add prostitution to the list of illicit activities that will be allowed to take place in this state.

Efforts are underway to gather enough signatures to place a ballot decriminalizing sex work on a future ballot for voters to decide. This is the same process that was used two years ago to legalize the possession of user amounts of extremely dangerous drugs like methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

The promise made to voters was that instead of ending up in the criminal justice system, low-level drug offenders would be offered the treatment that they need. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

There was never the capacity in place to handle the numbers of people who have sought treatment after the ballot measure passed and took effect. As a result, there are no consequences for those addicts.

Many addicts only get better because they were forced to by the criminal justice system. They reached rock bottom, in part, because of the legal consequences of their substance abuse. But that is no longer happening in Oregon.

Similarly, homelessness has been decriminalized through the passage of legislation at the state capitol in Salem.

Some would argue that drug use and prostitution are victimless crimes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is, addicts’ families go through hell watching their loved ones struggle to get clean and stay that way. And not more than a few addicts steal to fuel their habits, resulting in rampant property crime. It’s also very well known that many people who work in the sex industry got there as a result of human trafficking, which is one of the worst crimes imaginable.

It stands to reason that once you’ve legitimized and legalized something, you will end up with more of it. Are homelessness or drug use decreasing in Oregon, or are they increasing? I see no evidence that either of these things are getting better.

A prime example of this is happening in California right now. That state decided to decriminalize petty theft, and it is now going through the roof. Stores and national chains are closing their doors because of the losses caused by the kinds of brazen thefts that state government is tacitly encouraging.

I used to be proud to say that Oregon was a great place to raise a family. It was safe, the schools were good and there was quality of life.

All of that has become more difficult to truthfully tell folks from out of state who ask how things are here. As it is, many families have already left for other states because they were discouraged by the problems they see getting worse over time. Some of the biggest reasons they left included homelessness and drug use. The decriminalization of sex work and prostitution will not help do anything but convince more families to pack up and leave Oregon.

Freefall from the Free-For-All

A simple drive on the freeway through Portland and the sight of all its homeless camps confirms what many have suspected for a long time—the tendency in this state towards the legalization of drugs has come with tremendous consequences for individuals, families and all of society.

My fear is that the passage of Measure 110 in last November’s general election will only further exacerbate the problem.

Dubbed by its sponsors as the “Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative,” Measure 110 passed with around 58 percent of the vote, with over 1.3 million Oregonians electing to support it. The measure’s supporters raised $6 million for their campaign, while opponents were only able to raise $167,000.

Prominent figures who came out against the measure included Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote and former Governor John Kitzhaber, who had worked for years as an emergency room physician in Roseburg. Kitzhaber said that Measure 110 “makes it more difficult to treat the underlying addiction that leads to drug use in the first place.” Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton predicted that its passage will “lead to increased crime and increased drug use.”

Under the measure, personal, non-commercial possession of a controlled substance will be no more than a Class E violation carrying a maximum fine of $100. It includes schedule I-IV substances like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Even worse, the changes to the law under the measure now allow for possession of one gram or less of heroin, two grams or less of cocaine and meth, less than one gram or five pills of MDMA, less than 12 grams of psilocybin, less than 40 units of methadone and less than 40 pills, tablets or capsules of oxycodone.

Possession of the same drugs had been a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to $6250. Fortunately, manufacturing and distribution of those same drugs will remain a criminal penalty.

In lieu of paying a fine, offenders will have the option of completing a health assessment through the addiction recovery centers created by the measure’s passage. That assessment must include a substance use disorder screening conducted by a certified drug and alcohol counselor within 45 days of the violation.

The drug addiction treatment and recovery program will be funded in part by marijuana tax revenue and the projected savings from having fewer people in prison for drug-related crimes. All revenue to the state’s marijuana account over $11.25 million will be required to be transferred to the Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund (DTRSF) every quarter before being transferred to any other areas. This means that there will be a reduction of marijuana revenue distributed to cities and counties.

A minimum of $57 million in annual funding, adjusted for inflation, is now mandated to be provided by the Legislature to the DTRSF, although it’s estimated that the marijuana revenue diversion will be sufficient to fund it.

An Oversight Accountability Council will be established by the director of the Oregon Health Authority and will give grants from the DTRSF to government or community-run organizations to create addiction recovery centers. Those centers will then be required to provide medical or other treatment 24 hours a day, assessments, intervention plans, case management and peer support.

The recover centers in each Coordinated Care Organization service area are mandated to be established by October 1.

A legislative committee has been assigned to work on the measure’s implementation. My hope is that the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation will consider the consequences of this measure over the next few months as it works on turning it into a functioning law.

Ultimately, there are direct connections between many of the same issues that are causing problems on the streets of Portland. Property crime, mental illness, homelessness and drug addiction are all related. Hopefully, our elected legislators will be able to implement this ill-advised ballot measure in such a way that it will not further erode the quality of life of all Oregonians.