Early results of Oregon's Ballot Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of any drug, have been discouraging, the Atlantic reports. The state had one of the sharpest rises in overdose deaths last year and one of the highest percentages of adults with a substance use disorder. State leaders have acknowledged flaws with the policy's implementation and enforcement measures. More than 60% of respondents in a nonpartisan statewide poll this year blamed Measure 110 for making drug addiction, homelessness and crime worse. A majority said they supported bringing back criminal penalties for drug possession. In the Oregon legislative session, two bills passed with bipartisan support: tighter restrictions on fentanyl and more state oversight of how Measure 110 funding is distributed. “We’re building the plane as we fly it,” said Haven Wheelock, a program supervisor at a homeless services provider in Portland who helped put Measure 110 on the ballot. “We tried the War on Drugs for 50 years, and it didn’t work. … It hurts my heart every time someone says we need to repeal this before we even give it a chance.”
Measure 110 enacted two major changes to Oregon’s drug laws. First, minor drug possession was downgraded from a misdemeanor to a violation. Second, the law set aside a portion of state cannabis tax revenue every two years to fund a statewide network of harm-reduction and other services. A grant-making panel was created to oversee the funding process. A state audit published this year found that the new law was “vague” about how state officials should oversee the awarding of money to new treatment programs and set “unrealistic timelines” for evaluating and funding treatment proposals. The funding process was left largely to the grant-making panel, most of whose members lacked experience in the area. Last year, supporters of Measure 110 accused state health officials of giving the panel insufficient direction and resources to handle a flood of grant applications. The state health authority acknowledged missteps in the grant-making process. Meanwhile, the new law’s enforcement provisions have proved ineffectual. Of 5,299 drug-possession cases filed in Oregon circuit courts since Measure 110 went into effect, 3,381 resulted in a recipient failing to pay the fine or appear in court and facing no further penalties. Earlier this month, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signed legislation that strengthens state oversight of Measure 110 and requires an audit, due no later than December 2025, of about two dozen aspects of the measure’s performance.