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‘Out Of Control’: Oregon Decriminalized Drugs — Now It’s Having Second Thoughts

  Oregon residents voted in 2020 to decriminalize drugs, but just three years later many businesses, citizens and lawmakers are having secon...

 Oregon residents voted in 2020 to decriminalize drugs, but just three years later many businesses, citizens and lawmakers are having second thoughts amid a spike in overdose deaths and drug use.

More than 60% of Oregon voters polled think that Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs in November 2020, “has made drug addiction, homelessness, and crime worse,” according to DHM Research, and 56% of Oregon voters polled believe that the measure should be repealed entirely, according to an Emerson College poll. A coalition of cities, police groups, and prosecutors called on the state to recriminalize drug possession, and businesses who spoke to the DCNF say they’re struggling with the drug crisis in the state.  

“This has really spread across Oregon. It’s not just a Portland problem,” Oregon House Republican Leader Jeff Helfrich, a former Portland police office, told the DCNF. “It’s just out of control, I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Drug overdoses surged in Oregon between 2020 and 2022, and nearly 3% of Portland residents left the city in the same time frame. Over 600 people died of overdoses in 2019 in Oregon, and that number nearly doubled to 1,200 in 2022.

“The Republicans have a solution offered but there hasn’t been any talk about it because it doesn’t seem like there’s the will or the votes on the Democratic side,” Helfrich told the DCNF.

House Republicans in Oregon called on the legislature to address the crisis in multiple letters and have called for recriminalization of possession of drugs. Helfrich authored a letter Nov. 14 to Democratic Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek and House Speaker Dan Rayfield calling on Democrats to require treatment for drug users and to repeal Measure 110.

“I haven’t heard people from leadership from the other side of the aisle say yes, you have to work together to fix this,” Helfrich told the DCNF.

Among voters polled in Oregon, 50% believe that Measure 110 “makes the community much less safe,” according to an Emerson College poll. Of the voters polled, 54% said that Measure 110 has led to increases in homelessness.

One Portland police officer of 20 years, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told the DCNF he’s never seen it this bad.

“It’s just open, blatant hard drug use everywhere,” the police officer told the DCNF.

“You get calls from businesses constantly, from residents, that there’s people, you know, passed out in cars in front of their houses, people blocking the entrance to doors to their stores, people standing on the sidewalks when they’re trying to go shopping or take the kids to school, just using and displaying visible signs of drug use,” the police officer continued.

One owner of a Portland shipping container business said people are buying more containers to store their large objects, so they don’t get stolen.

The containers are used to store “everything from home and garden furniture, tools, automobiles, tack, hay, grain storage” and “farm equipment” according to Clackamas Container.

“It’ll take about two hours to break into a container, but if your materials are just on your property it won’t take but 20 minutes,” Clackamas Container owner Alan Connor told the DCNF.

Connor said some businesses in Portland proper have suffered a loss of patronage due to the laws around drugs and homelessness. “People can actually put up tents in your front yard in Portland,” Connor told the DCNF.

The owner of Vortex Detailing, who gave the DCNF his first name, Brenton, said he avoids Portland at all costs because of the crime and drug use the city.

Some homeless residents in Salem, Oregon’s capital city located about 45 miles southwest of Portland, said Measure 110 has made their lives worse.

“We’ve lost eight to nine friends in the past two and a half, three years, if that,” Malia Saunders, a homeless Salem resident, told KGW8, an Oregon-based outlet.

Matthew Maceira, a formerly homeless man who now does outreach with the homeless, said Measure 110 has led to more problems for Salem.

“It’s only caused harm,” Maceira told KGW8.

“It has become something that I see every day in Salem. The number of people who are living on the side of the road is staggering. It used to be where there were a few people and I would recognize some of them, but not anymore. There are just so many and they do drugs out in the open for everyone to see. Downtown Salem has become unsafe for everyone, homeless or not,”  Sam Evans, former executive assistant at the Oregon Department of Transportation, told the DCNF.

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