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Zoning Out Drugs

Pete Springer/OPB

In 1992, drug and prostitution free zones were instituted (pdf) in parts of Portland with high crime rates and visible drug markets. Drug Free Zones were similar to trespassing ordinances. If a person was arrested for a drug or prostitution crime, she or he would be excluded from the neighborhood zone for ninety days. If that person was caught during that time in that area, he or she was subject to immediate re-arrest.

Over the next 15 years, questions rose over the constitutionality of a law banning individuals from going to certain areas, and the types of individuals such a law focused on. An independent study (pdf) in 2007 showed that African Americans were far more likely to be excluded than any other race. That same year, lawmakers allowed the controversial drug and prostitution free zones to sunset.

Now, four years later, Mayor Sam Adams is addressing residents’ calls for a revised drug free zone to be reenacted.

The most prominent of these revisions is the fact that exclusions would be based on convictions, not arrests. In the new proposal for the illegal drug impact zones, more money would be available for patrolling officers and the District Attorney’s office. As stated at the Mayor’s presentation (pdf), the overall goal is to collectively “create a better downtown.”

But would further enforcement help individuals struggling with drug addiction? We’ll explore the constitutionality of these revisions and the best way to give help to those who need it the most. Would a new Illegal Drug Impact Zone create a safer environment for all of downtown? Are the proposals a step in the right direction?


  • Howard Winer:Founder and chair of Old Town Chinatown Public Safety Livability Committee
  • Michael Reese: Chief of Police for the Portland Police Bureau
  • Chris O’Connor: Oregon Criminal Defense Attorney
  • Ed Blackburn: Executive Director of Central City Concern
  • Chani Geigle-Teller: Community Organizer for Sisters of the Road
addiction drugs police portland

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