Local government

Measure 110 revamp presents opportunities, challenges for local police agencies

VALE – Local law enforcement officials are lauding a move to revoke portions of Ballot Measure 110, but warned that key questions remain.

The Legislature in the 2024 session amended the ballot measure passed by voters in 2020 that decriminalized possession of a small number of illegal narcotics.

House Bill 4002 restores criminal penalties for possession of a small amount of illegal narcotics such as methamphetamine or fentanyl.

Now, offenders can be issued a class U misdemeanor citation, face up to six months in jail or seek drug treatment in lieu of a criminal penalty. The new law goes into effect in September.

The previous version of Measure 110 stipulated that an individual found with a modest amount of illegal narcotics faced a maximum $100 fine. They could avoid the fine if they called for a health assessment or sought addiction treatment.

Many though, didn’t pay the fine or seek treatment.

Almost since its inception, Measure 110 faced sharp criticism by police and some elected leaders, including officials in Malheur County.

In 2022, the Ontario City Council penned a letter to then-Gov. Kate Brown and three candidates running for her position that dubbed the measure a “catastrophic failure.”

The revised version of Measure 110 is a step in the right direction, said Travis Johnson, Malheur County sheriff.

“There is some good stuff in the bill that will be really helpful,” he said.

He said the new bill gives police the ability to “actually do something.”

“Right now, you can write a citation but if they don’t seek treatment, they pay a fine and it doesn’t do anything,” he said.

The new law allows police to help more people facing addiction, he said.

“With it being a crime, we can get them involved with the criminal justice system. Hopefully that means getting them through drug court or a diversion program,” he said.

Now, he said, those in possession of illegal narcotics will face consequences.

“They will have to follow through with a diversion program or see jail time,” he said.

Johnson said the new law won’t end the illegal narcotics trade.

“This is a big problem that won’t be fixed overnight. We are not going to clean up the streets in one or two or six months,” he said.

Johnson said real results will probably occur “over the next two or three years.”

Oregon State Police Lt. Kurt Marvin said troopers will enforce the new law once it goes into effect.

“It gives us a little more authority to try to solve the problem or prevent some of the problem,” he said.

He said the new law isn’t “going to be perfect.”

“But you have to start somewhere,” he said.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, said he is unsure what the law will mean in terms of workload for his office.

“It will depend on how the enforcement works. The cases referred to me depend on law enforcement proactivity. My office doesn’t really have a list of priorities as far as cases go,” he said.

Goldthorpe said he has “nothing but high hopes for this program.”

“We think it will be far better than what we currently have,” he said.

Goldthorpe said his intent isn’t to “throw people in jail.”

“But I want to give law enforcement a tool to not only get people into treatment but keep our streets safe,” he said.

The new law also offers funding for a specialized “deflection” – or diversion ­– program that counties can opt into. Johnson said Malheur County did so.

Johnson said the Malheur County Jail uses an existing diversion program directed by Lifeways in Ontario. However, he said, the program is modest and is only available Monday through Thursdays at the jail.

“It is minimal because we don’t have the manpower to operate it 24/7,” he said.

Johnson said the state funding for a “deflection” program has few strings attached to it and he’d like to use the money to expand the jail diversion effort

“We have the flexibility to build the program to fit our county,” he said.

Goldthorpe said he supports the idea of building on the existing jail diversion program.

“I don’t think we will have to have this separate program because it will be run by the same individuals, Lifeways and the sheriff’s office,” he said.

He said the diversion part of Measure 110 was “always the missing piece.”
“It (Measure 110) had no way to force someone into treatment. It just said here is a phone number and no one was calling,” he said.

Yet some questions linger.

When the new law is implemented and a police officer discovers a small amount of illegal narcotics, they can either cite an individual for a misdemeanor or direct them into the deflection program.

“It is optional. It will be up to the officer or a deputy’s discretion and will look different in every county,” said Johnson.

A key question then is how will the county track those who decide to seek treatment or verify they actually completed a diversion program.

“That’s a good question. We don’t know at this point,” said Johnson.

Johnson said some system will be needed to follow those who are in a treatment program.

“So, if the next officer or deputy has contact with them, they can be alerted that this person has already been offered our sought treatment,” said Johnson.

Johnson said there is still a “lot of work to be done” on the new law’s implementation in Malheur County.

“It is all pretty new,” he said.

One element to implementation of the new law will impact the Oregon State Police Crime Lab, said Marvin.

“When they decriminalized everything, we were not submitting all the drugs to the crime lab. Now that it is a crime again, it will increase the amount of controlled substances submitted to our labs,” said Marvin.

Marvin said the state police are already moving ahead with steps to meet a higher crime lab workload.

“OSP plans on hiring six additional forensic lab positions,” he said.

Judge Lung Hung, Malheur County Circuit Court presiding judge, said the new law will mean more work for his court.

“We are very busy as it is,” he said.

Hung said another challenge of the new law is the ability to find enough public defenders for an influx of new cases,

“I’m not quite sure where we will find the attorneys to cover these. We don’t have enough for the ones now,” he said.

Hung said the court will do its best to “triage and scramble,” to find enough public defenders.

“We are always on that edge in fighting to get enough attorneys,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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