As a parent, a doctor and former Governor, I urge Oregonians to vote “no” on Ballot Measure 110. I understand that a central motivation behind this ballot measure is to help reverse the disaster caused by the War on Drugs, which incarcerated people suffering from addiction and had a disproportionate impact on Black and Indigenous people and other communities of color. I agree with this goal, but Measure 110, as written, makes it more difficult to treat the underlying addiction that leads to drug use in the first place.
Oregon is in the midst of an addiction crisis, in no small part because of the failed War on Drugs, which stigmatized addiction as a crime instead of the disease that it is. We have the third-highest untreated addiction rate in the country, and consistently rank near the bottom in access to treatment. At the same time, the social isolation, economic stress and anxiety from COVID-19 have led many Oregonians to self-medicate with addictive drugs.
Today, those arrested for illegal drug possession in Oregon are offered state-funded treatment services through diversion programs, including drug courts. Measure 110 would eliminate this invaluable tool by reducing the possession of highly addictive drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone to a “violation,” which means the court will no longer have the ability to offer people the choice to pursue treatment. It also means that a teenager caught in possession of heroin or meth will only receive a ticket, which in many counties means that parents won’t be informed of their child’s drug use.
Furthermore, over the next three years, Measure 110 will divert $90 million from schools and $56 million from addiction treatment and prevention to fund 16 screening and referral centers and a grant program managed by 18 volunteers appointed by the Oregon Heath Authority—with no concrete goals or objectives for ending the state’s addiction crisis. And the measure does not require the creation of any new treatment capacity. We don’t need more screening and referrals in Oregon, we need more prevention and treatment.
In the last century, we routinely warehoused people with behavioral health disorders in state mental hospitals, creating a stigma that has lasted to this day. Understandable pressure from advocates led to the closure of these hospitals, but we did not, at the same time, build out and fund the capacity to provide effective community-based treatment programs—and today our behavioral health system is in crisis. By the same token, simply decriminalizing drugs does not, in itself, address the underlying problem of addiction.
Incarcerating people who suffer from addiction should not be tolerated. But today, very few people are jailed simply for possession—and eliminating our current drug diversion program, before building the capacity to address Oregon’s addiction crisis, will have lethal consequences. We can do better.
Vote “no” on Ballot Measure 110.