The Drug Review: Oregon’s Measure 110 Has Been A Failed Policy Experiment

By Connor Kubeisy, Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions

February 1st marked three years since Oregon implemented Measure 110, the nation’s first experiment with the decriminalization of all drugs, including meth, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl. Measure 110 has been a demonstrable failure by nearly all measures, seeing increases in fatal overdoses, nonfatal overdoses, illicit drug use, drug-related traffic fatalities, homelessness, public drug use, crime, drug seizures, a worsening racial disparity in drug-related arrests, and a reduction in risk perceptions about drug use, as well as declining support for the policy. 

In November 2020, under the slogan of “treatment over incarceration,” Oregonians voted to pass Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of hard drugs. Instead, those found in possession would be given a choice: either pay a fine of no more than $100 or call a behavioral health hotline to have the fine waived. If people do not call the hotline and opt not to pay the citation–an amount less than any other ticket in the state of Oregon, for context–there is no follow-up or recourse. In effect, Measure 110 made drug use a penalty-free behavior. 

At the same time, Measure 110 got much of its funding by redirecting tax revenue from the sale of marijuana away from existing programs, the 2020 General Election Voters’ Pamphlet explained. Measure 110 defunded schools by $73.0 million, “mental health, alcoholism, and drug services” by $36.5 million, the Oregon State Police by $27.4 million, and “alcohol and drug abuse prevention and intervention” by $9.1 million in the 2021–2023 biennium. It also diverted millions in projected revenue increases that otherwise would have gone to cities and counties.  

So, as the rest of the nation looks to the policy experiment in Oregon as a national test case, what has unfolded in the three years since Measure 110 took effect? 

Fatal Overdoses

Far from achieving a reduction in overdose deaths or even a stabilization, as hoped, evidence suggests Measure 110 has made the overdose crisis worse. Between 2020 and 2022, the number of overdose deaths in Oregon increased 75%, from 797 to 1392, compared to only 18% nationally, according to the CDC’s WONDER database

Drawing on a process adapted by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee based on inflation-adjusted estimates from the CDC, the 996 opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2022 cost Oregon approximately $13.7 billion due to healthcare costs, lost productivity, and lost life. Likewise, opioid use disorder cost Oregon approximately $18.0 billion in 2022. This calculation does not include the costs of other conditions like meth, cocaine, and cannabis use disorders. 

Still, some contend that Measure 110 has not worsened the situation in Oregon. They argue that Oregon has the same drug supply as other states along the I-5 corridor–down from Mexico, through California, Oregon, and Washington, and up to Canada–and that the rise in overdose deaths is due to a shifting drug supply that saw the emergence of fentanyl. 

While fentanyl has been moving west, opioid-involved overdose deaths increased by 101% in Oregon between 2020 and 2022, compared to 77% in Washington, 36% in California, and 20% nationally, the CDC reported. Over that same period, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) increased by 261% in Oregon, compared to 185% in Washington, 64% in California, and 33% nationally. 

The same trend has followed for psychostimulants with abuse potential (primarily meth), the second most common drug class implicated in overdose deaths. Between 2020 and 2022, overdose deaths with psychostimulants with abuse potential (primarily meth) increased by 112% in Oregon, compared to 93% in Washington, 34% in California, and 44% nationally.

Others may argue that the poor outcomes in Oregon can be attributed to a lack of access to treatment, stemming from an underfunded treatment system. After all, the first paragraph of Measure 110 stated, “Oregon ranks nearly last out of the 50 states in access to treatment.” But this is not a convincing explanation either. 

According to the 2018–2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), California ranked as the 4th worst in the nation for the percentage of residents 12 or older who needed treatment for illicit drug use at a specialty facility but did not receive it, compared to Oregon as the 10th worst and Washington as the 11th worst. And in 2021–2022, California had the 2nd worst percentage of residents who needed substance use treatment but did not receive it, compared to Oregon as the 5th worst and Washington as the 6th worst. Oregon’s neighboring states rank either comparably bad or worse than Oregon on access to treatment, yet overdose deaths have not increased as steeply in these other states. 

If we assume the drug supply in the states along the I-5 corridor is more or less the same and that access to treatment in these states is either comparably bad or worse than in Oregon, one may find that Measure 110 is the variable that changed and explains the vastly different outcomes between Oregon and its neighboring states. 

Nonfatal Overdoses

Beyond the number of fatal overdoses, the number of nonfatal overdoses is illustrative of the situation in Oregon. Between 2019 and 2020, the year before Measure 110 was implemented, the number of nonfatal overdose emergency department visits in Oregon decreased by 4%, according to the CDC’s DOSE dashboard. This has reversed and increased every year since then. Between 2021 and 2022, Oregon was one of only three states that reported an increased rate of nonfatal overdose emergency department visits, alongside Hawaii and New York. 

Oregon is one of only two states that had a rate of nonfatal overdoses more than 200% above the national average between February 5, 2023, and February 4, 2024, alongside Vermont, according to the National EMS Information System (NEMSIS). Multnomah County, home to Portland, had the highest rate of nonfatal overdoses in the nation among counties with more than 80,000 people. 

Given that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has said, “a non-fatal overdose is a leading predictor for a future fatal overdose,” the situation on the ground in Oregon looks even more bleak. In 2022, there were 1,392 overdose deaths and 6,551 nonfatal overdose emergency department visits in Oregon. Notably, the latter is an undercount because not everyone who overdoses goes to the hospital. 

A 42.2% plurality of overdose deaths in Oregon in 2022 involved the co-use of an opioid with a stimulant, such as meth or cocaine, according to the CDC’s SUDORS database. This trend has been characterized as the “fourth wave” of the opioid epidemic. The implication is that Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid-induced overdose, would be unable to reverse many of these. The overdose crisis facing Oregon, as well as the nation, will likely worsen as many nonfatal opioid overdoses become fatal overdoses that do not respond to Narcan because they are increasingly mixed with non-opioid substances. 

Illicit Drug Use and Risk Perceptions

Underlying these trends in fatal and nonfatal overdoses is a shift in illicit drug use. The state-level estimates of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) were released this month, providing the first look at how drug use has changed since Measure 110. A comparison of estimates from 2018–2019 and 2021–2022 indicates that illicit drug use increased in Oregon. 

Oregon now has the highest rate of past-month illicit drug use (not including marijuana) in the nation, and this measure increased 6.9 times faster in Oregon than it did nationwide. Similarly, past-month illicit drug use (with marijuana) increased by 21.1% in Oregon, reaching the second highest level in the nation, behind Vermont. Again, for comparison to its neighbors, illicit drug use increased by 9.7% in California and 16.8% in Washington.  

Between 2018–2019 and 2021–2022, the number of Oregonians aged 12 or older who were past-month users of illicit drugs–which includes the use of any combination of cocaine, meth, marijuana, or fentanyl, among other potential substances–increased by approximately 168,000. 

The NSDUH estimates suggest that Measure 110 has sent the message to residents that drugs are less harmful. Oregon went from being the state with the 8th lowest percentage of residents who said there is great risk associated with trying heroin once or twice to having the lowest percentage in the nation. Likewise, Oregon now has the lowest percentage of residents who said there is great risk associated with using cocaine once a month and the 3rd lowest percentage of residents who said there is great risk associated with smoking marijuana once a month. Oregon ranked poorly on these measures prior to Measure 110, stemming from pre-existing cultural attitudes about drug use, and Measure 110 appears to have further normalized drug use in the state. 

Drug-Impaired Driving

Overdoses are not the only fatalities attributed to Measure 110. The rise in drug use following the passage of Measure 110 has led to an increase in traffic fatalities due to impaired driving.  

Oregon’s Department of Transportation said the passage of Measure 110 “has resulted in a predictable increase in drug-impaired driving crashes and related injuries and deaths.” A separate report from the state reiterated, “the implementation of State Ballot Measure 110 at the beginning of 2021 was likely responsible for a notable increase in drug-impaired and polysubstance impaired driving occurrences, and their related crashes.” 

Oregon’s Triennial Highway Safety Plan said, “Measure 110, in combination with Oregon’s previous legalization of recreational cannabis possession, appears to be a significant factor in the increase in drug-impaired driving and related crashes.” Because of Measure 110, the report added, “it is anticipated that the poly-substance crash trend will only continue upward.”  

Measure 110 has made Oregon’s roadways less safe. “Due to the recent passage of Measure 110,” the Department of Transportation explained, “there is an increased need for police officers to be trained in drug recognition tactics.” Yet a 2022 report from Oregon’s Secretary of State said Measure 110 has “placed additional burdens” on the Oregon State Police due to the reallocation of funding away from them and toward support services. 

Support Services

The Oregon Health Authority reported that funding has increased for treatment, harm reduction, peer support services, and more because of Measure 110. Lost in debates about this policy, though, is the fact that these much-needed investments could have been made regardless of whether drug use was criminalized, decriminalized, or legalized. For example, California, which has not implemented a policy like Measure 110, offers many of these same services. 

The steep increase in overdoses in Oregon should be viewed in light of these investments–despite the fact that millions of dollars have been allocated toward the state’s drug crisis, Oregon has still experienced many of the worst drug-related outcomes in the nation. Though overdose deaths in Oregon increased approximately 4 times faster than the national average between 2020 and 2022 (75% vs 18%), the effect of decriminalization without the additional funding of resources like Narcan would have resulted in an even steeper increase, potentially closer to 5 times the national average. In effect, a non-zero share of the 6,551 nonfatal overdose emergency department visits in Oregon in 2022 would have been fatal without this funding. 

Even so, the millions in funding that followed from Measure 110 pale in comparison to the billions in related costs. The Oregon Health Authority said, “244 organizations received approximately $265 million in Measure 110 grant funds” between 2021 and 2023. As mentioned above, the effects of opioid-involved overdoses and opioid use disorder in 2022 alone resulted in costs that were over 100 times greater than this amount.  

Parts of Measure 110 may be working at cross-purposes, with one aspect worsening the drug crisis and the other trying to address it. 

As Oregon works to reduce the number fatal overdoses, a question that has not been asked is what the state is specifically doing to reduce the number of nonfatal overdoses, given that a nonfatal overdose is a leading predictor of a future fatal overdose. Interventions like Narcan may prevent some overdoses from becoming fatal, but these interventions take effect only after the overdose has occurred. An upstream approach would focus on reducing the act of drug use itself. But Measure 110 defunded upstream programs like this–prevention, as well as schools–by more than $80 million between 2021–2023. 

Additional Outcomes

An April 2023 review from the state determined, “along with its diverse culture, the legalization of marijuana in 2016 and the passage of Ballot Measure 110…has led to an increase in migration of people moving to and visiting the State.” Just as so-called “cannabis tourism” increased after the legalization of recreational marijuana, it is plausible to foresee that some individuals may come to Oregon to experiment with hard drugs because of the reduction in penalties from Measure 110. 

While certain overdose statistics are suppressed in the CDC’s WONDER database to protect individual privacy, the states of residence for overdose decedents remain listed. In 2019 and 2020, individuals from 8 and 11 other states, respectively, died from overdoses in Oregon. Immediately after Measure 110 took effect, this number increased to 20 and 19 other states in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The number of states represented among overdose decedents in Oregon doubled between the two years prior to Measure 110 and the two years after it. 

In comparison, while the number of states represented among overdose decedents in Oregon increased by 105% between 2019–2020 and 2021–2022 (from an average of 9.5 other states to 19.5), the same measure increased by 42% in Washington (18 other states to 25.5). The number also increased by 6% in California, though it could not have increased by much because many states were already present (43.5 other states to 46).  

The number of treatment admissions statewide would be insightful, yet Oregon is one of only four states that did not provide admissions data to SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set, making it difficult to assess whether admissions have increased since the passage of Measure 110. If the number of calls to the treatment hotline set up by Measure 110 is any indication, an increase in treatment admissions is unlikely.  

The 2021 NSDUH found that the top reason cited by those who needed treatment for substance use but did not receive it was that they were “not ready to stop using.” This fact helps explain a key shortcoming of the decriminalization framework, which is premised on the assumption that people will voluntarily seek treatment. Of course, assuming it was available, which it often is not, if someone wanted treatment prior to Measure 110, they could have gotten it, just as individuals in the 49 other states that have not decriminalized drugs are able to access treatment. 

This month, OPB reported, “The combined result of all the legislative efforts on Measure 110 was to leave Oregon with no carrot and no stick to steer people into treatment.” Measure 110 promised to meet people where they are, but it left them there. 

In 2022, 89.5% of those who died from an unintentional overdose in Oregon had no pulse when first responders arrived, compared to an average of 63.4% across the 30 states that provided data, the CDC’s SUDORS database reported. Less than one in 10 of those who died from an unintentional overdose in Oregon had ever received treatment for substance use disorder, highlighting the need to use policy levers to help get people into treatment before it is too late. 

Paired with the fact that the top reason cited by people for not receiving treatment is that they were “not ready to stop using,” it would follow that waiting until someone is ready to stop using drugs and begin treatment can have tragic consequences. The lethality of the drug supply does not afford them this convenience. 

Moreover, between 2020 and 2023, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness increased by 10.8% in Oregon, while it decreased by 3.5% in California and 4.8% in Washington, according to point-in-time estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A poll from August 2023 found that 62% of voters in Oregon think Measure 110 has made the “homeless crisis” worse, while only 2% think it has made it better. 

In Oregon, people are rightly prohibited from drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana in public, yet Measure 110 allows them to use hard drugs like meth and fentanyl in public. As a result, the Associated Press reported that public drug use in Oregon is “rampant.” Relatedly, if a minor is caught with a cigarette or alcohol, they are “going to receive a stiffer penalty than if you have meth or heroin,” a police officer told researchers at Portland State University. 

In October 2023, the Board of Commissioners of Douglas County, along with the District Attorney and County Sheriff, sent a letter to the legislature, urging them to repeal Measure 110. The leaders of Oregon’s 9th largest county said, “the decriminalization of certain drug possessions has compromised public safety by reducing the deterrent effect of law enforcement efforts.” Indeed, the violent crime rate increased by 17.3% in Oregon between 2020 and 2022, despite decreasing 4.5% nationally, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program

Governor Tina Kotek, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson declared a state of emergency last month due to the drug crisis in Oregon, particularly in downtown Portland. 

Racial Equity

Despite these harms, a coalition called Oregonians for Safety and Recovery has formed to defend Measure 110, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of Oregon, the Ebony Collective Coalition, and Imagine Black. Knowing that these outcomes have failed to demonstrate the efficacy of Measure 110, they doubled down on the claim that “at-risk individuals, particularly Black and brown people and poor people, will bear the brunt of criminalization.”  

This is odd, given that Measure 110 has disproportionately harmed these same individuals. Between 2020 and 2022, the number of overdose deaths of Black Oregonians increased by 126.5%, compared to 69.6% among white Oregonians. More Black people in Oregon died from overdoses in 2022 than from diabetes, suicide, and COVID-19, combined. 

An August 2023 poll conducted by Emerson College found that nearly two-thirds of Oregonians–including 74% of Black Oregonians and 79% of Hispanics–want to repeal parts of Measure 110 and reinstate penalties for the possession of drugs. Voters, especially voters from disadvantaged communities, favor a drug policy with a backbone. 

The group Oregonians for Safety and Recovery–whose statement defending Measure 110 referenced “health” only once–is also concerned about “arrest disparities.” They should know that disparities for drug-related arrests have worsened since Measure 110. In 2020, Black people were 1.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for the possession of drugs other than marijuana, which was legalized at the state level in 2014. In 2022, this increased to 1.83 times more likely. The racial disparity in arrests for selling or manufacturing drugs increased from 2.33 in 2020 to 2.68 in 2022. 

In January, sensing that the Democratic legislature was going to reverse Measure 110, Oregonians for Safety and Recovery claimed that legislators were going “to reverse the state’s public health approach to addiction and impose a criminal penalty for people not able to access treatment.” Activists have come to use the phrase “public health approach” to mean anything that ties the hands of law enforcement. However, the criminal justice system is not inherently at odds with public health strategies–they provide referrals to treatment and work to keep drugs out of neighborhoods, for example. The most effective approach is one that sees public health and public safety organizations working together, not relying exclusively on either one. 

To be sure, no one is calling for putting people behind bars for their addiction–many jails and prisons do not offer evidence-based treatment. It is time to turn the page on the War on Drugs. Policymakers should remember why voters were open to Measure 110 in the first place and be cognizant of the effects their policies have on different communities. To that end, the consequences that have followed Measure 110 appear to be disproportionately harming Oregon’s communities of color. 

Drug Trafficking

As the number of arrests for the possession of drugs decreased, as designed, the number of arrests for selling or manufacturing drugs also decreased. Though these acts were not decriminalized, the number of arrests for selling or manufacturing drugs decreased from 698 in 2020 to 585 in 2021 and 404 in 2022, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The decriminalization of the possession of drugs appears to have inadvertently caused the police to pull back from making arrests for drug dealing. 

With drug seizure numbers serving as a proxy for the number of drugs being trafficked into an area, there appears to have been a steep increase in drugs moving into Oregon following the passage of Measure 110. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Portland Field Office seized 1,384 pounds of drugs in 2023, up 71% from 809 pounds in 2022. For context, the Seattle Field Office in Washington had an 11% increase over this same period. The number of drug seizure events through the Portland Field Office nearly tripled between 2022 and 2023. 

When the Portland Business Journal asked Natalie Wight, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, if Measure 110 has affected her work, she said, “you better believe Measure 110 has affected our office,” adding that it “has had a huge effect on incoming drugs into Oregon.” She noted, “one of our largest units in this office is narcotics and organized crime.” “We’ve seen a big change as far as the type of drugs we’re seizing and definitely a huge increase in drugs being seized on the streets weekly,” U.S. Attorney Wight concluded. 

Billy Williams, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon for both the Obama and Trump administrations from 2015 to 2021, explained on the Oregon Roundup podcast, “it hasn’t worked because if you take accountability away from, as a tool if you will in the toolbox, it doesn’t work.” He said, “a reason there are so many drugs coming into the state is because there’s no consequence for possessing” them, stating that the cartels “have to love the fact that Oregon decriminalized possession of drugs.” 

According to the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a federally funded coalition of law enforcement agencies, the number of seized dosage units of fentanyl increased from 733,039 in 2020 to 32,633,737 in 2022, a 4,352% increase. Assuming each one is a potentially lethal dose, enough fentanyl was seized in 2022 alone to kill Oregon’s 4.23 million residents nearly 8 times over–and that doesn’t include the fentanyl that got through to users. 

Oregon vs. Portugal

Some may know that Portugal decriminalized the possession of drugs and are wondering why this policy has gone so differently in Oregon. Keith Humphreys, a professor at Stanford and a former White House drug policy adviser, offers an explanation. In his book Addiction, he compared the situations in Lisbon, Portugal, and San Francisco, California, given that they share many goals and approaches. He concluded that “the difference is probably cultural.”  

Much like in Oregon, Humphreys wrote that “San Francisco has a culture that is individualistic and focused on personal fulfillment as a right and even an obligation. Lisbon, in contrast, has a more communitarian culture in which obligations to others are valued more than celebration of self.” “When the curbs on drug use provided by law enforcement were relaxed in Lisbon,” he explained, “their robust cultural norms against it remained in place. But in San Francisco, the law was the main source of anti-intoxication norms, and when those were removed, all that was left was a culture with no such restraints.” Measure 110 eliminated these restraints in Oregon. 

Oregon’s culture, tracking with its residents having many of the lowest drug-related perceptions of risk in the nation and some of the highest rates of use, embraces drug use to a much greater extent than Portugal. Oregon’s experience with Measure 110 should serve as a warning sign to other states that are considering following in its path, such as Maine

In a 2023 article second guessing decriminalization in Portugal, the Washington Post reported that illicit drug use in the European country increased from 7.8% in 2001 to 12.8% in 2022. Worse yet, Oregon’s prevalence of past-month illicit drug use was 55% higher than the U.S. national average in 2021–2022, which is already much higher than the national average in Portugal. Recognizing the importance of Portugal’s social norms against drug use, it is unlikely that a similar policy would work in any of the U.S. states, least of all in Oregon. 

Another key difference between Oregon and Portugal is that they are facing different drug threats. State Representative Lily Morgan, an opponent of Measure 110 who joined the state’s November 2023 visit to Portugal, pointed out, “They are not dealing with fentanyl, and they’re not dealing with methamphetamine, two highly addictive, highly potent substances that are stealing lives in Oregon. It’s not apples to apples. You can’t compare Oregon and Portugal.”  

The Political Environment

It is worth noting that Oregon’s pro-drug culture preceded Measure 110–in fact, this factor helps explain why Oregon was targeted by interest groups to be the first state to pilot this policy. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana (1973), the second state to legalize medical marijuana (1998), the third state to legalize recreational marijuana (2014), and the first state to legalize psilocybin, known as “magic mushrooms” (2020). Oregon is perhaps the only state that would have voted to experiment with a policy like Measure 110. 

Former Democratic Governor Kate Brown recently told OPB, “this was a theory that was put into practice in a state that was probably one of the least prepared to be successful,” adding that, “this initiative, happening when it did, was the perfect storm.” OPB reminded readers of the heightened emotional environment that saw the passage and implementation of Measure 110: “Oregon was recovering from its deadliest wildfire season on record. Law enforcement was emerging from violent Portland street clashes that followed the murder of George Floyd and coping with calls for police reform that ensued. COVID-19 vaccinations were finally on their way, and [the governor’s office] chose to focus on supplying shots and reopening schools.”  

Thus, it is unlikely that Measure 110 would have passed in Oregon had it been on the ballot in 2018 or 2022. It is telling that no state voted on a similar ballot measure in 2022 after the passage of Oregon’s in 2020; to date, no state has approved a similar ballot measure for 2024. 

It is important to recognize that the evidence base for Measure 110 and decriminalization was thin to begin with. In its 2023 report about the overdose epidemic, the American Medical Association called for increasing access to treatment, reviewing insurance policies to ensure they comply with parity laws, and expanding harm reduction services, among other points. However, the American Medical Association did not recommend decriminalizing the possession of drugs. The Oregon Medical Association did not support Measure 110 (they also opposed the 2020 ballot measure to legalize psilocybin). Former Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber, a doctor, opposed it. Measure 110 was put forth in 2020 for ideological reasons, not because leading medical experts determined it to be an appropriate, evidence-based response to the drug crisis. 

Charles Lehman, in National Affairs, argued, “A haphazard approach was tolerable when the harms of drug use took time to accumulate. But with tens of thousands being poisoned to death every year, bolder action is required.” After activists got their chance with Measure 110, and it failed, it is now time for policymakers to take a no-B.S. approach to drug policy. 

Public Opinion

Altogether, it is not surprising that support for Measure 110 has fallen. Though Measure 110 passed with 58% of the votes in November 2020, a poll from August 2023 found that only 2% of voters think Measure 110 has been a success, compared to 61% that think it has been a failure. This should not be controversial. 

The failures of Measure 110 have been spotlighted in national media outlets, ranging from the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic to the New York Times. While the Editorial Board of the Oregonian, the largest newspaper in Oregon, initially supported Measure 110 in October 2020, they have since reversed their position and released editorials in December 2023 and February 2024 that supported recriminalizing the possession of drugs. 

The same August 2023 poll found that people with personal experience with drugs are more likely to believe that Measure 110 has made the overdose issue worse, with 62% saying so, compared to 54% of those with no experience with hard drugs. Further, 87% of those with experience with drugs think public drug use should be prohibited, 76% support making the possession of drugs a crime again, and 78% support required treatment for those charged multiple times for possession–all of which are the opposite of what Measure 110 has done. 

People with experience with drugs, who are the purported victims of criminalization and the supposed beneficiaries of decriminalization, are more likely to disapprove of Measure 110, see it as a failure, and blame it for the overdose issue–they have seen and felt the unintended consequences of Measure 110 firsthand. Billy Williams, the former U.S. Attorney, made a similar point, saying, “the people that I can recall in the last year or so who have been interviewed who are living on the streets, using drugs, experiencing homelessness and some kind of mental health disorder, they would tell you that [the $100 citation] was a joke.”  

Next Steps

Alongside the change in heart among the public, the Oregon League of Cities, the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, the Oregon District Attorneys Association, and the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association have jointly called for the reclassification of possession from a Class E violation to a Class A misdemeanor, among other recommendations like prohibiting public drug use. They recommend recriminalizing the possession of drugs and putting an end to the experiment with Measure 110.  

On February 21st, the Oregonian reported, “Leading Democratic lawmakers are finalizing proposed changes to Measure 110 that would make minor drug possession a crime again and give the accused multiple chances to avoid jail time.” KTVL10 reported the plans, which came as a compromise with Republican lawmakers who called for stricter penalties, include the creation of a new misdemeanor class, probation as an alternative to jail, and the use of pre-trial diversion in counties that opt in. 

In the three years since it was implemented, there is now bipartisan agreement that Measure 110 has been a failed policy experiment. Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber said, “there has been a change in the mood of the electorate,” acknowledging that voters “realize that things are not working.” Democratic and Republican legislators in Oregon have introduced separate proposals to backtrack and reverse these feel-good drug policies. Policymakers are right to be looking for a better, safer, more equitable approach to drug policy. 

Connor Kubeisy is a Policy Analyst with the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions and a Master of Public Health student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health