Oregon Legislature approves bill to re-criminalize certain drug possession

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Lawmakers in Oregon have overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make possession of a small amount of certain drugs a misdemeanor in the state, moving to re-criminalize certain substances like fentanyl after voters previously moved to decriminalize the possession and personal use of all drugs.

The measure, HB4002, now moves to Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek’s desk for her consideration. Kotek has not publicly said whether she supports the measure, though in late January the governor joined local officials in declaring a fentanyl state of emergency in downtown Portland.

CNN has reached out to the governor’s office for comment.

The measure passed both chambers with bipartisan support, with the state Senate approving the bill Friday in a 21-8 vote after it had cleared the state House the night before, 51-7.

In 2020, Oregon became the first state in the nation to decriminalize the possession and personal use of all drugs when Measure 110 passed with 55.8% of the vote. It took effect in February 2021.

Under the voter-approved measure, possession of small amounts of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine was no longer punishable by jail time and carried penalties more akin to a traffic ticket. It also expanded access to addiction assistance and other health services.

Backers of HB4002 celebrated the step toward rolling back aspects of the state’s previous decriminalization effort.

“Though lawmakers will have much more to do in future sessions to continue making progress on the fentanyl-fueled drug overdose and addiction crisis facing our state, I was proud to stand on the right side of history by casting my vote in favor for HB 4002,” Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp said in a statement.

“Passing this bill will put Oregon on a path to recovery and signifies and end to the nationwide decriminalization movement,” he added.

The bill’s critics have argued that re-criminalization would disproportionately harm communities of color.

“It is not enough to monitor the system when we know it is a system that has bias built into it,” said Jennifer Parrish Taylor, the director of advocacy and public policy at Urban League of Portland. “I fear that we will be back next year, hearing those stories of harm, figuring out how to make our communities whole.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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