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Portland bans public drug use — but can’t enforce measure without change to state law

  The Portland City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to   ban the use of hard drugs   in public spaces, but the measure cannot be enfo...

 The Portland City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to ban the use of hard drugs in public spaces, but the measure cannot be enforced without a change to state law.

In a 5-0 vote, the city council prohibited the use of drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine on public property. Those found in violation of the new emergency ordinance could face up to six months in jail or a $500 fine, the Oregonian reported. 

However, the city’s new measure cannot be enforced unless there is a change to current state law, which prevents cities and municipalities from regulating public drug use.

In 2020, the state’s voters passed Measure 110, the Drug Addiction and Recovery Act, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs. The measure also redirected marijuana taxes to fund overdose prevention and recovery housing.

A survey conducted in April by DHM Research found that six in 10 voters believe that Measure 110 has contributed to an increase in drug addiction, homelessness, and worsening crime. The majority of those surveyed, 63%, supported bringing back criminal penalties for drug possession. 

Commissioner Rene Gonzalez stated, “These are necessary, common-sense steps to disrupt debilitating drug use on the streets of Portland that does deep damage to our city’s livability, overwhelms our emergency response system, and destroys lives.” 

However, the city council’s measure also faced criticism.

Lauren Armony, the program director for the social services nonprofit Sisters of the Road, accused the city council of targeting users who do not have private property.

“This prohibition specifically targets substance users without sufficient private property to use legally,” Armony said. “It will marginalize substance users into unregulated and unsafe environments.”

Tony Vezina of 4D Recovery Services told KPTV that he is skeptical the measure will be effective.

“It may just kind of hide addicts. I was an addict; I was on the street before; I had to hide,” Vezina said. “It may create a limited intervention that is only applied to people we can see in downtown Portland smoking in front of businesses using fatal or high-addictive drugs.”

The Portland City Council also passed a resolution Wednesday directing the city’s Office of Government Relations to lobby lawmakers to change state laws to allow the measure to be enforced.

In Multnomah County, which includes Portland, opioid-related overdose deaths increased fivefold between 2018 and 2022. Last year, fentanyl deaths reached a record high of 209.

“What happens now is we have our lobbyists right over there,” Commissioner Mingus Mapps told KPTV. “Sam Chase [the interim director of the Office of Government Relations] who will be talking to our colleagues down in Salem and to the governor, urging them to take this up in the short session. I believe this is a no-brainer that the legislature can knock out literally in an afternoon. Then once they do, that actually gives the city of Portland and every other city council across the state of Oregon the power to begin to regulate when or where people do hard drugs. Frankly, I would anticipate most jurisdictions, including the city of Portland, would say please do not smoke fentanyl on public sidewalks, in public parks, in public school grounds, and public garages.”

Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said during Wednesday’s council meeting, “The bottom line is this: Week by week the situation is getting worse.”

“We have to focus with urgency to save lives and livelihoods,” Wheeler stated.

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