Poll Says Support for Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization Is Imploding

Three years after voting to decriminalize drugs in Oregon, a majority now believe the law should be repealed, a poll says.
Poll Says Support for Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization Is Imploding
Heroin bought on the street is prepared for injection at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., on May 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Scottie Barnes
Three years after casting ballots to decriminalize drugs in Oregon, a majority of voters now believe the law should be repealed, according to an August poll.

Measure 110, the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act,” was approved in November 2020 with 58 percent voter support. 

When it became law, the measure decriminalized user amounts of hard drugs—including fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin—in favor of addiction treatment options to be funded by the state’s cannabis tax.

But the rollout of treatment programs has been an abject failure. The first of the promised detox centers just opened in August.

And, an Oregon Health Authority (OHA) audit found that just 1 percent of people who were cited for possessing controlled substances sought treatment using a new hotline created as part of the measure. 

Now the state is grappling with an opioid crisis and increased homelessness, both of which critics contend has been exacerbated by decriminalization.

Substance abuse in the state has exploded.

Since 2020, Oregon has experienced a 210 percent increase in fentanyl-related fatalities, according to the OHA’s Public Health Division.

Overdoses in the state increased between November 2021 and November 2022 by nearly 4.58 percent, surpassing the national average by sevenfold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many Oregonians blame Measure 110, and most now want it repealed.

The Survey Says

An Emerson College poll of 1,000 registered Oregon voters found that 56 percent support a complete repeal of Measure 110, while 64 percent believe parts should be repealed in order to bring back penalties for possession of small amounts of hard drugs.

Commissioned by the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, the poll surveyed registered Oregon voters “to measure public attitudes towards Measure 110.”

It found that 41 percent of Oregon voters were more likely to vote for a lawmaker if they voted to repeal the measure, whereas 33 percent said they were less likely to vote for the lawmaker, and 25 percent said this would not impact how they vote.

A majority of respondents also said Measure 110 increased homelessness in their communities, with 54 percent reporting increased homelessness and 38 percent saying the measure had no impact on homelessness. 

A majority of most racial groups also supported a full repeal of Measure 110, including about 66 percent of Hispanics or Latinos and African Americans alike and more than 50 percent of White voters. Less than half of Asian American or Pacific Islander voters surveyed were in favor of repeal, but nearly 71 percent of multiracial voters wanted Measure 110 reversed.

Cities and Counties Speak Out

Amidst a rising number of overdose cases, the city of Medford, Oregon, and the Jackson County and Coos County Boards of Commissioners have recently called for the repeal of Measure 110. 

In early September, the Portland City Council banned the use of hard drugs on public property. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners will be asking voters next spring whether the measure should be repealed.

The Medford City Council released a resolution stating that rather than reduce drug overdose deaths, Measure 110 has resulted in a significant increase in overdoses. It also claims the increased drug activity has negatively impacted “community livability” throughout the state.

“It has become dramatically apparent that Measure 110 has not delivered as it was proposed to the voters and is missing the mark when it comes to addressing addiction,” said Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino in a press release.

“I am pleased to see that our council and city leadership are moving forward with a resolution seeking a repeal of Measure 110 by our state legislators and, if that isn’t possible, significant and necessary changes to the measure.”

A Governor Under Pressure

In July, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signed a law once again criminalizing fentanyl. 

Under the new law,  possession of 1 to 5 grams of fentanyl, the deadliest drug in the state, is now a misdemeanor charge. Possession of five to 24 pills is also now a misdemeanor that can carry a year jail sentence.

Two milligrams of fentanyl is enough to cause a fatal overdose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Despite the governor’s action, Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) pressed Ms. Kotek about the state’s approach to mitigating the fallout of Measure 110. 

“Three years ago, our constituents voted for a measure they were told would reduce drug abuse,” Ms. Chavez-DeRemer wrote in a letter dated Sept. 7. “Instead, drug abuse has exploded, and our neighbors fighting addiction have been left to fend for themselves.”

In her letter to Ms. Kotek, Ms. Chavez-DeRemer raised concerns that the measure’s shortcomings have failed the homeless population, which proponents of Measure 110 had said it would help.

“After enabling the trafficking and use of deadly drugs, the state failed to provide the accessible health care that was promised. If we want to get serious about drug abuse in the unsheltered homeless community, we need to increase restrictions for drug access and ensure their health care is provided directly where they live,” Ms. Chavez-DeRemer wrote. 

The Republican lawmaker advocated for qualified street medicine teams that would establish relationships with patients and provide “dual-diagnosis care right where the patient lives.”

The letter ended with a series of challenges for Ms. Kotek, including considering a ballot measure to repeal Measure 110, increasing penalties for drug traffickers, improving border security, and bolstering qualified street medicine teams.

Measure on Life Support

Despite public pressure and sentiment, supporters of the measure are not ready to concede.

A delegation of Oregon’s elected leaders will travel to Portugal on a fact-finding mission in October. 

During the campaign for Measure 110, proponents upheld Portugal as a model for the approach. Now they hope to learn how that country’s decriminalization program, which was adopted in 2001, is working and bring those lessons back to their state.

The delegation will meet with the chief architect of Portugal’s policy as well as police, government leaders, and those who have been incarcerated for drug use. The group will also tour the largest drug treatment center in Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon.

Scottie Barnes writes breaking news and investigative pieces for The Epoch Times from the Pacific Northwest. She has a background in researching the implications of public policy and emerging technologies on areas ranging from homeland security and national defense to forestry and urban planning.