Local government

Ontario City Council letter labels state drug law a ‘catastrophic failure’

ONTARIO – The Ontario City Council wants state officials and candidates for governor to know the law that decriminalized certain illegal narcotics is a failure and should be overturned.
In a letter recently approved by the council, city leaders told Gov. Kate Brown along with gubernatorial candidates Christine Drazan, Tina Kotek and Betsy Johnson that Measure 110 passed by voters in 2020 was a “catastrophic failure.”
“The passage of Ballot Measure (BM) 110 in 2020 has disastrously impacted our community. As a border town with the State of Idaho, Ontario has seen a significant increase in crime and homelessness in the past few years,” the council wrote.
The council proposed that state law be changed to take Ontario out of the provisions of the measure and return to previous criminal sanctions for drug possession.
The letter was expected to be sent to Brown, Drazan, Kotek, Johnson and media outlets across the state within the next week or so.
Kotek is the Democratic candidate for governor while Drazan is running on the Republican ticket and Johnson is running as a nonpartisan.
Measure 110 diminishes penalties for drug possession. The measure was also designed to fund drug addiction treatment.
Under the measure, for example, an individual found with less than one gram of heroin would face a maximum fine of $100 instead of being prosecuted for a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
“The community of Ontario believes that the experiment has been a catastrophic failure. BM 110 is negatively impacting our citizens’ quality of life and we ask that you do all you can in your power to overturn this misinformed policy in an any way you can, including sending this back to voters for reversal or allowing Ontario to be carved out from its implementation,” the council wrote.
“Being a border community, we are caught in the middle,” said Riley Hill, Ontario mayor.
Hill said the law is attracting “people from Idaho that are (drug) users.”
“And they are not going to go to jail if they are caught. We have to have help, either money or the law changed,” he said.
Hill said Measure 110 “so far isn’t working.”
The council’s letter said that while Ontario is a compassionate community, as a border city, “we can no longer afford to bear the burden of being the drug use destination of our neighboring state and expect to continue to maintain the quality of life our citizens expect and deserve.”
The letter is a way to raise awareness of Ontario’s unique challenges with Measure 110, said Ken Hart, city council president.
“It amplifies the ability to get something done,” said Hart.
Hart said Measure 110 stymies the options police can utilize to stop illegal drugs.
“It is handcuffing them in their ability to do their jobs and it rolls into crime and homelessness,” said Hart.
The city council letter follows a briefing Ontario Police Chief Mike Iwai delivered to the local councilors in early September.
Iwai addressed the city’s growing homeless population and traced the problem, at least in part, to Measure 110.
“We have a lot of folks unhoused who either have addiction or mental health issues. Many of them don’t cause problems for law enforcement but many of them do,” said Iwai last week. Iwai said that he isn’t sure the addition of treatment facilities will make a major difference in combating addiction or illegal drug use.
“When someone decides to go to treatment, that individual has generally reached rock bottom and that is different for everybody. Ballot Measure 110 has crippled us from both sides. It decreased law enforcement resources and increased the population abusing drugs. Now is that good at any level?” said Iwai.
City Councilor Michael Braden said he believes the letter will be just the first of several missives the council will distribute to raise awareness of Ontario’s challenges.
“It (Measure 110) is affecting our small communities a lot more than it is affecting the rest of the state,” said Braden.
Braden said repeal of the law “would be amazing.”
The Oregon Legislature could repeal the law by a majority vote.
That’s what Hill said he wants.
“That’s the short answer,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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