Despite a much-criticized rollout, Oregonians still support a 2020 law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs and allocated millions of dollars towards addiction services, according to a recent poll by a progressive think tank.
The survey by Data for Progress found that 85% of Democrats, 58% of independent voters and 33% of Republicans support keeping Measure 110, rather than repealing it and defunding related addiction services. The measure is the country’s first drug decriminalization law. It also provided for the creation of addiction recovery networks statewide. It was pitched as a way to keep low-level drug offenders out of jails and get them help.
The San Francisco-based research group surveyed 1,051 Oregon voters between Aug. 23 and 29. Voters were asked which of two statements more closely aligned with their views:
- “We should keep Measure 110 in place so that Oregonians are not punished for mental health and continue to have better access to addiction services.”
- “We should repeal Measure 110, return to arresting people caught with any amount of drugs and defund the services that Measure 110 has funded.”
- Respondents were also given the option of “neither.”
According to Data for Progress, the findings are consistent across all regions of Oregon.
Measure 110 was approved by voters in November 2020, 58% to 42%, and implemented in February of the next year.
The law reduced penalties for possession of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, LSD and other drugs to the level of a traffic ticket. The law’s other key component redirects an estimated $300 million a year in marijuana tax revenue toward addiction recovery centers in every county in Oregon. Critics bashed the Oregon Health Authority, which has overseen the rollout, for a botched process involving a council of people with addiction experience but no experience launching complicated health care programs.
Officials only approved contracts for the last of the centers in June. In the meantime, drug arrests and incarcerations have dropped but addicts still await resources to help them. Opponents of Measure 110 include two of three gubernatorial candidates, Republican Christine Drazan and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, who support repealing the law.
Nonaffiliated candidate for Oregon Senate Rich Vial, a former Republican state representative, is running as a critic of the two-party system. He told the Capital Chronicle he thinks opposition to Measure 110 will prove popular with voters.
“It’s a nuanced issue, and we need to revisit it and have a more in-depth and nuanced discussion about what the appropriate solutions should be,” Vial said.
Addiction remains a crisis in Oregon. A study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that in 2021, Oregon ranked first in the nation in illicit drug use. Meth and opioid use are the leading cause of overdoses in rural Oregon, according to an August study by the Journal of the American Medical Association. And overdose deaths in Oregon caused by the synthetic opioid fentanyl have exploded since 2019 – from 70 deaths that year to 510 in 2021, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
The Data for Progress survey additionally found that more voters believe drug addiction is best addressed through the public health system and not the criminal justice system, or 72% compared to 24%.
Respondents were also polled on the individual provisions of Measure 110. All components were selected as at least “somewhat popular” with a majority of respondents.
The final question asked voters whether they believe Measure 110 is responsible for increased crime and homeless. A total of 69% of respondents said increased crime and homelessness stems from poverty, lack of affordable housing and lack of mental health care while 28% said it was due to a lack of arrests.
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Garrett Andrews covers justice, health and social services. Before joining the Oregon Capital Chronicle, he worked for 14 years at newspapers in Colorado and Oregon. He has a master's degree in political science from the University of Colorado-Denver.