Increased Criminal Penalties For Drug Possession in Oregon: Democrats Reach Consensus

Salem, OR: Under a revised bill that might be heard as soon as this coming Friday, Democrats in Oregon would increase the possible criminal penalties for drug possession from their original plans.

Top Democrats have now agreed to enable prison terms of up to 180 days for anyone found with tiny quantities of narcotics such as heroin, meth, or fentanyl, in an effort to garner support for their comprehensive plan to tackle the state’s addiction epidemic. For weeks, the party had maintained that 30 days would be more realistic, but Republicans, police, and city governments all strongly opposed the plan.

House Bill 4002, which is scheduled to be reintroduced by Democrats in the next days, also undermines a clause that would have mandated that, instead of sending anyone apprehended with narcotics to jail, police should offer to connect them to treatment.

The purpose of such “mandatory deflection” was to provide drug users with an option to evade criminal prosecution. However, it is now just voluntary according to the updated bill.

Dems from Portland and Bend, Sen. Kate Lieber and Jason Kropf, expressed their hope on Wednesday that HB 4002 will get enough bipartisan support to succeed in return for the adjustments. They are hoping to defuse a possible ballot issue that would seek a more severe rollback of the state’s drug decriminalization statute, which has been in place for three years, with the help of new support from police enforcement.

According to Lieber and Kropf, House Bill 4002 will mostly stay the same. The expansive measure aims to strengthen addiction programs across the state and increase access to drugs that help alleviate opioid withdrawal. There would be stricter punishments for drug traffickers operating in close proximity to homeless shelters, treatment centers, or parks, and it would be simpler to convict those involved.

The original version of HB 4002 proposed a 30-day jail sentence for the class C misdemeanor offense of possessing illegal drugs. Police, district attorneys, municipalities, and counties pushed back against the plan, arguing that a class A misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year would be more appropriate. Some groups have spoken out against it, claiming that reinstituting criminal sanctions will have devastating effects.

Even though their proposed crime had a greater maximum sentence, Kropf and Lieber claimed it contained more lenient elements. They stressed that therapy may keep a person’s record clean and that a conviction did not automatically result in jail time. Compared to the Democrats’ original proposal, which contained the possibility of a 15-day term upon conviction, it is less severe.

Violating probation carries a possible prison sentence of up to six months, while losing probation carries an even harsher sentence of up to one year. Their release to engage in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program is still an option, according to Kropf.

Possession convictions are expungable after three years. Lieber and Kropf stated that the potential fines would not be effective until September, giving counties time to establish new treatment programs.

In an effort to appease their detractors, Democrats withdrew a crucial feature from their original plan: the “mandatory deflection” clause, which they had thought would encourage individuals to seek treatment instead of going to prison. Alternatively, counties can now choose to implement a system that directs individuals to treatment prior to their arrest.

A recurrent theme in the statement was the repeated disregard for the actual hardships endured by those most affected by criminalization. There has been a consistent disregard for the mounting evidence that the recriminalization of addiction is ineffective.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have suggested that revisions to the law are inevitable and that they ought to take the lead.

With the support of billionaires in Oregon and the leadership of a former head of the state’s department of corrections, a coalition has introduced a ballot issue that would lead to harsher criminal penalties than what Democrats have decided upon.

Oregonians may be inclined to pass it in November due to growing disillusionment with the state’s liberal drug policy, according to polls.