Oregon’s Democrat governor signs law making drug possession a crime again after liberal laws led to flood of street use and homelessness sprawled across the state

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Gov. Tina Kotek signed a law reversing the 2020 drug decriminalization policy
  • The voter-approved measure made possession of fentanyl like a parking ticket
  • Oregon had a 210 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths since 2020

Oregon’s Democrat governor signed a bill recriminalizing drug possession after its lax policy led to soaring overdose rates and rampant homelessness across the state.

Governor Tina Kotek signed the law on Monday that rolls back a 2020 voter-approved measure that saw the possession of street drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine become a non-criminal violation, equal to that of a parking ticket.

When Oregon voters approved the landmark plan to decriminalize hard drugs four years ago, they thought that putting an end to the jailing of drug users would do good for the state and potentially spread throughout the country.

However, overdoses soared as the state struggled to fund the enhanced treatment centers at the core of the decriminalization plan and public opinion has soured on it as public drug use has become more visible because of growing homelessness. 

The state has seen a 210 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths since the initial decriminalization bill was passed and Kotek declared a state of emergency over the fentanyl crisis in Portland in January.

Drug possession has been recriminalizing in Oregon after its lax policy led to soaring overdose rates and rampant homelessness across the state

Governor Tina Kotek signed the law on Monday that rolls back a 2020 voter-approved measure that saw the possession of street drugs become a non-criminal violation

Governor Tina Kotek signed the law on Monday that rolls back a 2020 voter-approved measure that saw the possession of street drugs become a non-criminal violation

Following decriminalization, overdoses soared as the state struggled to fund the enhanced treatment centers and public opinion soured on the policy

Following decriminalization, overdoses soared as the state struggled to fund the enhanced treatment centers and public opinion soured on the policy

Kotek declared a state of emergency over the fentanyl crisis in Portland in January to battle the city's debilitating fentanyl crisis

Kotek declared a state of emergency over the fentanyl crisis in Portland in January to battle the city’s debilitating fentanyl crisis

The state has seen a 210 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths since the initial decriminalization bill was passed

The state has seen a 210 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths since the initial decriminalization bill was passed

In 2023, 16 children were exposed to fentanyl in the state and 539 kids were exposed to the deadly drug across the country, according to KATU2.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development annual homelessness assessment report, on a single night in January 2023 Oregon had 20,142 people experiencing homelessness and 64.6 percent of them were unsheltered.

The governor met with officials from the Oregon justice department, department of corrections, district attorneys, police and community leaders before signing the bill.

‘Success of this policy framework hinges on the ability of implementing partners to commit to deep coordination at all levels,’ Kotek said in a letter to the state senate president and house speaker on Monday.

The changes take effect September 1 and makes personal use possession a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

It also establishes ways for treatment to be offered as an alternative to criminal penalties by encouraging law enforcement agencies to create deflection programs that would divert people to addiction and mental health services instead of the criminal justice system. 

The lax law passed in 2020, combined with the pandemic, further hurt Portland’s downtown, causing the streets to become an open-air drug market. 

According to the City of Portland, overall homelessness increased by 65 percent from 2015 to 2023, with 6,297 homeless people counted in the latest Point in Time Count.

In March 2023, Walmart announced it was permanently closing all of its locations in Portland months after CEO Doug McMillon warned of a historic rise in theft at its stores.

Despite passing key ordinances within the past year to tackle drug use and homelessness, the city faces impediments as it deals with addiction and unsanctioned camps.

The new law takes effect September 1 and makes personal use possession a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail

The new law takes effect September 1 and makes personal use possession a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail

On a single night in January 2023 Oregon had 20,142 people experiencing homelessness

On a single night in January 2023 Oregon had 20,142 people experiencing homelessness

The lax law passed in 2020, combined with the pandemic, further hurt Portland's downtown, causing the streets to become an open-air drug market

The lax law passed in 2020, combined with the pandemic, further hurt Portland’s downtown, causing the streets to become an open-air drug market

More than half of voters in Portland would still consider leaving the city if they could afford to, according to a poll commissioned by the Portland police union

More than half of voters in Portland would still consider leaving the city if they could afford to, according to a poll commissioned by the Portland police union

Portland City Council unanimously approved in September an ordinance prohibiting public drug use, yet its implementation hinged on state legislators passing supporting measures.

Portland officials cut millions from its police budgets in June 2020 following the Black Lives Matter protests and the growing ‘defund the police’ movement.

Following a rise in crime, homelessness and drugs in the city, Portland officials reversed course and increased its $230million police budget by $5.2million a year later.

However, more than half of voters in Portland would still consider leaving the city if they could afford to, according to a poll commissioned by the Portland police union.

It found that almost two-thirds of people believe the city is ‘on the wrong track’ and 68 percent say it is ‘losing what made it special.’

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