Oregon to Reduce Heroin, Meth, Other Hard Drug Possession Convictions

Gov. Kate Brown expected to sign drug defelonization bill
Oregon governor Kate Brown (D.) / Getty Images
• July 11, 2017 5:52 pm


A new bill sitting on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's (D.) desk would reduce convictions for first-time possession of heroin, cocaine, and meth, among other drugs.

Brown is expected to sign the bill Tuesday evening at the earliest, KOBI-TV 5 reported. She has 30 days to do so.

Oregon House Bill 2355 passed the state's House of Representatives on a 36-23 vote on July 4, a week before it went to Brown's desk. The Senate approved the measure 20-9. The bill specifically reduces drug convictions for possession of trace quantities of methadone, oxycodone, heroin, MDMA, cocaine, and methamphetamine from felonies to misdemeanors.

Possession of "usable" quantities—an amount that can be weighed independent of its packaging—of the drugs is a misdemeanor the first two times. It becomes a felony if the accused has a prior felony conviction, two prior misdemeanor convictions for possession, or is carrying enough to sell.

Proponents of the bill emphasized the racial disparities in drug crime enforcement, and argued that addiction should be treated as a public health matter.

"We've got to treat people, not put them in prison," said Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D.). "It would be like putting them in the state penitentiary for having diabetes. … This is a chronic brain disorder and it needs to be treated this way."

Others, like Sen. Betsy Johnson (D.) opposed defelonization, arguing that without the threat of felony, users would no longer comply with drug treatment and Oregon's drug courts would be disempowered.

A concurrent bill, H.B. 3078, defelonized certain property crimes often connected to drug use.

Oregon law enforcement officials are expecting substantial changes from the bill.

"It's a pretty major change," Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert told KOBI-TV 5. "We're already gearing up to change our forms over, we're fully expecting the governor to sign the bill."

"Almost daily we have some sort of incident regarding a controlled substance," Sheriff Nathan Sickler of Jackson County said.

He thinks defelonization will result in more work for him and his coworkers, but that is not his primary concern.

"It probably minimizes how devastating drugs can be to an individual," Sickler said. "I think that's an issue."

While some law enforcement officials may be skeptical, the bill earned the backing of liberal groups in Oregon, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.

"The War on Drugs has failed. We have a chance right now to take a smarter approach in Oregon, by passing HB 2355, to defelonize small-scale drug possession," the ACLU said on its site.

In 2014, Oregon voters made their state the third to decriminalize marijuana.

Published under: Drugs, Oregon