Portland City Council will consider adopting new penalties to discourage public drug consumption next week.
The proposal, introduced by Mayor Ted Wheeler, would prohibit the consumption of controlled substances on public property, similar to the city law banning public alcohol consumption. People who violate this policy could face up to six months in jail or a $500 fine.
Wheeler said the policy addresses a “loophole” in drug possession laws that allows open-air drug users to skirt penalties.
He’s referring to Measure 110, a 2020 ballot measure that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. Under this law, possession of a small amount of illicit drugs is treated as a civil violation — similar to a traffic offense — subject to a $100 fine. A person could avoid the fine by calling a hotline that offers screening for drug addiction and treatment referrals.
The measure also aimed to expand addiction treatment statewide with the help of cannabis tax revenues. But this piece has been slow to roll out in a state that’s already experiencing a critical shortfall in available addiction treatment beds.
In the meantime, public drug use has skyrocketed in Portland. Wheeler suggested that’s because people aren’t deterred by Measure 110′s low penalties.
“Clearly this is not working as it was intended to,” Wheeler said Thursday. “As we navigate these uncharted waters, we’re forced to wait for better substance abuse recovery resources. But local governments have an obligation to do what we can to protect our community right now.”
Wheeler said Portland police have already recorded more than one hundred suspected overdose deaths in 2023. Last year, police reported a record of 158 overdose deaths in total.
The new city rule would act as a local amendment to the state law, making it unlawful for people to use illicit drugs in Portland’s public spaces. Unlike the state law, it would impose criminal sanctions on small-scale drug possession. It would not apply to people using prescribed drugs in public.
Portland City Council will hold an initial vote on the proposal next Wednesday. The policy comes to council just weeks after commissioners approved a policy to ban people experiencing homelessness from camping in public spaces during the day.