This week, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill into law that makes simple possession of any drug a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The new law, which takes effect immediately, means that first-time drug offenders will face smaller fines and less jail time, as well as getting a better chance at receiving treatment. The law also requires police to record demographic information on anyone that they stop for questioning, in an attempt to curtail racial profiling.
Proponents of the law believe that sending drug addicts to treatment facilities is a more effective deterrent than incarcerating them. "We are tying to move policy toward treatment rather than prison beds," said state Sen. Jackie Winters, supporter of the bill. "We can't continue on the path of building more prisons when often the underlying root cause of the crime is substance use."
The Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association also supported the bill, noting that felony convictions can block access to housing and employment. In a letter supporting the bill, Kevin Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, wrote that “felony convictions in [drug possession] cases also include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities."
However, the letter also warns legislators that the new law “will only produce positive results if additional drug treatment resources accompany this change in policy.” “Reducing penalties without aggressively addressing underlying addiction is unlikely to help those who need it most.”
Legislators also approved another measure that appropriates $7 million for drug treatment.