SALEM, Ore.–It’s decision time for Oregon lawmakers, as the demand for taking action on drugs grows each day and with a March deadline looming.  A public hearing brought lots of people to the state capitol in Salem.

State Senator Kate Lieber says they’ve heard testimony from hundreds of people from throughout Oregon, on top of receiving thousands of written statements,  mostly agreeing, that Oregon needs more treatment for addiction, but disagreeing about whether to reverse Measure 110 and re- criminalize drugs.  The legislation lawmakers plan a work session on tonight is House Bill 4002, and part of what it does is make drugs a new type of misdemeanor crime, with a lot of opportunities to get into drug treatment instead of doing jail time.  It is getting significant support, for example from Juanita Smartwood from Lentz, whose granddaughter struggles with addiction.

“Our neighborhood has been extremely hit hard by the combination of runaway homeless camps, the presence of dangerous drugs being used, being sold. H.B. 4002 will give the city officials and law enforcement stronger tools to stop the use of drugs in public and to arrest and prosecute drug dealers who prey on the vulnerable.  Like my granddaughter.”

But there’s strong opposition from civil rights groups who say this is just going to put Oregon back into doing things that have not worked well in the past, and repeating harmful mistakes that hurt already disadvantaged people, especially those with lower incomes and people of color.  Danita Harris is with the group, Imagine Black.  She told lawmakers, “HB 4002, and all of the amendments stand in stark opposition to our vision. Data overwhelmingly shows that the carceral approach is a relic of failed policies.  You have been informed of the impacts of criminalization and are aware of the impacts of such policies on the black community. Despite knowing how woefully harmful this will be you continue to move further and further towards incarceration over treatment.”

 This is Oregon’s short legislative session, so the pressure’s on this remaking of drug policy as a top promise and priority.  The session wraps up March 10th.  At the end of tonight’s work session, a committee could vote on the legislation, and if it wins approval, it could go before the full Oregon House of Representatives as soon as Thursday.   Next the state senate could take it up.  And along the way, there could be more changes, and more amendments.