When Oregon voters resoundingly approved a first-in-the-nation drug decriminalization measure this year, they also rejiggered the state’s budget. Measure 110 would pour at least $57 million into expanded addiction treatment in its first year, and more in the years that follow.
But Gov. Kate Brown now says that timeline is too hasty.
As part of a proposed two-year budget she released Tuesday, Brown has suggested delaying the financial aspects of Measure 110 until July 2022. Small amounts of drugs would still be decriminalized as of next February, but the funding meant to ensure Oregonians have more treatment options could be put on ice for more than a year.
The governor’s office has offered a couple of reasons for the proposed delay. The first: That it wasn’t able to find funding to make up for all of the money the new treatment dollars would take away from other priorities. The measure sops up a portion of the state’s cannabis tax revenue, which currently goes toward schools, state police, local governments and addiction treatment
“In the Governor’s budget we have found ways to fill the funding gaps created for schools, public safety, and existing health services in the second year of the biennium,” Charles Boyle, a press secretary for the governor, said in a statement. “It wasn’t possible to fill those funding gaps immediately while still maintaining critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Brown’s office has also said it’s not clear that the Oregon Health Authority, which will oversee the expanded addiction treatment, will even be ready to spend the money next year. Even so, backers of Measure 110 are calling on lawmakers to reject the governor’s proposal.
“Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 110 on Election Day, because they know we need more treatment and less stigma to save lives,” Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, said in a statement.
According to OHA data Brown cited in her budget, Hurst noted, the state saw a nearly 70% percent increase in overdose deaths in April and May of this year, compared to the same period last year.
“The Governor attempting to withhold funding and punting this 18 months down the road will result in more suffering and deaths,” Hurst said. “This is not reflective of Oregon’s values or the will of our voters.”
Others Measure 110 supporters have piled on, suggesting the delay would disproportionately harm the communities of color Brown’s budget took pains to prioritize.
Under Measure 110, any cannabis tax revenue the state collects above $45 million a year goes into a new fund meant to stand up new addiction treatment centers and to offer grants to bolster services in existing organizations. The measure said the new fund must receive at least $57 million in its first year, but backers expect the real amount to be well above that.
Under the measure, the rules for awarding grants from the fund must be created by June 30, 2021. The new addiction recovery centers are supposed to be operational by Oct. 1 of next year.
In effect, Brown’s budget is calling on lawmakers to either pass a bill amending the language of the law voters put into place by a wide margin, or to figure out a way to close the funding gaps the measure creates. Measure 110 would derive the largest proportion of its initial funding from the State School Fund, the largest pot of education dollars in the state budget. Brown has proposed increasing that fund by about $100 million in the next two-year budget.
“The Oregon Health Authority is already taking steps to implement Ballot Measure 110 and the Governor looks forward to working with advocates to establish a timeline that works for everyone for implementation,” Boyle said.