In 2020, Oregon became the first state to ensure it wasn’t a crime to possess small amounts of illicit drugs. Nearly two years later, plenty of people are regretting that decision.
Not only are overdoses on the rise — a trend that was underway before Measure 110 took effect — but a statewide network of new service offerings for drug users has been slow to emerge. That’s got critics complaining Oregon has gone about decriminalization backwards. And it’s got all of the state’s leading gubernatorial candidates pledging to take action.
OPB asked Republican Christine Drazan, Democrat Tina Kotek and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson about their approaches to drug decriminalization. Their unedited answers are below.
Do you believe that Measure 110 needs to be repealed?
Christine Drazan: Yes. Measure 110 is a failed policy. It has made our addiction crisis worse, not better.
Betsy Johnson: Absolutely. Ballot Measure 110 has created an incredible mess. People are literally dying while state government fails to show up with the services this ballot measure promised. I opposed BM 110 and will work to repeal this failed experiment. But, until it’s repealed or replaced, Oregonians need the treatment and recovery programs they were promised — it’s life and death playing out on our streets.
Tina Kotek: No. Oregonians overwhelmingly voted to pass Measure 110 because they know we need a health-based approach that provides treatment to people dealing with addiction. When someone is ready to go into treatment and recovery, we need to ensure there is treatment ready and waiting for them.
Unfortunately, the state has failed to deliver the promised treatment programs fast enough. In response, my opponents want to go back to our failed approach of just throwing people struggling with addiction in jail. I want to fix the problems and actually deliver on what voters demanded — that’s why I worked to fast-track $20 million when I was Speaker, and about 16,000 Oregonians were able to access treatment due to these new funds. As Governor, I will hold the Oregon Health Authority accountable and make sure Oregonians see the transformational change we need.
If you do believe Measure 110 should be repealed, would you commit to attempting to do so via a vote of the people? How would you help expand access to treatment and other services absent the funding set out in the measure?
Drazan: Yes. I have previously stated that because the voters of Oregon were the ones who gave this law its original approval, they must be the ones to weigh in again regarding repeal. Given the disastrous rollout and false promises associated with it, I believe that Oregonians will support repeal. We have enough money in our current state budget to build on addiction and recovery services without having to also accept the decriminalization of hard drugs.
Johnson: BM 110 was passed by the people and should be repealed by the people. It was never necessary to legalize hard drugs to provide treatment funding from cannabis taxes. This was the deception behind the law. Despite this large, dedicated funding source, state government has completely failed to stand up the addiction treatment promised under BM 110, with, so far, zero accountability from Governor Brown for this deadly failure. As governor, I would make sure the money doesn’t go out without accountability metrics, fair geographic distribution and appropriate timelines for measuring success. This started out as a political debacle that must not end as a treatment debacle.
If not, do you believe Measure 110 is working as intended? What steps will you take to more quickly ensure that the intentions of voters are being met regarding referrals/access to treatment?
Kotek: No, it’s not working as intended, in large part because the Oregon Health Authority failed to distribute the funds quickly to get more local treatment programs up and running. Let me be really clear, this would not be acceptable in a Kotek administration. I won’t tolerate bureaucracy standing in the way of Oregonians getting the help they need, especially when lives are on the line. As Governor, I will hold the Oregon Health Authority accountable for managing these critical resources and if that means replacing the current leadership at the agency with a leader who can get the job done, so be it. Additionally, I support strengthening the referral pathway for connecting people with treatment.