Some in local law enforcement say Measure 110 is backfiring

Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 1:07 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Ballot Measure 110, known as the Drug Treatment and Recovery Act, was supposed to provide more access to drug treatment for Oregonians struggling with addiction by funding treatment and behavioral services. More than a year after its implementation, some in local law enforcement think the measure is backfiring.

Before voters passed Ballot Measure 110, opponents predicted decriminalizing drugs would lead to an increase in crime and hamstring law enforcement when it comes to drug activity.  Crime has in fact increased in the Portland area, and while they say it’s hard to point to Ballot Measure 110 as the cause, they say it’s hard to argue things have gotten better.

In the year or so since it went into effect, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said he has not seen those results.

“Ballot Measure 110 was a Trojan Horse,” he said. “People who voted for it were led to believe that they would be increasing access to treatment.”

Instead, Barton said his office has seen an overall increase in crime, property crime in particular.

“Crimes like car theft, car break-ins, catalytic converter theft. Things that really impact the quality of life for regular Oregonians.”

Barton said he cannot say definitively that BA 110 caused the increase in crime, but he did say that it has tied the hands of law enforcement.

“Previously, step one was someone was essentially caught using a drug that was illegal and the police could interact with that person at that time and we could provide treatment and supervision,” he said. “Step one now has been taken out of the criminal justice process, so there’s really no way to require people to engage in that treatment.”

Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance sees it differently.

“We know from OHA’s reporting that in six months, 16,000 Oregonians were able to access care,” she said.

Hurst said part of the point behind BA 110 is that the war on drugs has not worked.

“We have seen study after study that shows that forced treatment doesn’t work, but it can also be really harmful,” said Hurst. “We’ve also shown that when you saddle somebody with barriers, lifelong barriers such as criminalization, you don’t have access to jobs, housing, education, bank accounts.”

As for the crime argument, Hurst said crime has been increasing around the country, not just in Oregon.

“What Ballot Measure 110 did was decriminalize small possession of drugs.  It did not decriminalize crimes,” she said.

But Barton said drug users often commit crimes to fuel their habits.

“So now we have to wait for them to commit a more serious crime. We have to wait for them to steal a car.  Wait for them to break into a car, break into a home, assault somebody,” he said.

But Hurst said more funding for treatment services is starting to flow from the state, and despite the slow rollout of funds so far, access to treatment will improve.

“We are 50th in the nation in access to services.  The services haven’t been there. Period,” she said. “We still have to build our way up to ground level and then continue to build up in order for us to see and feel the impact of a robust system”

Barton freely admits the war on drugs and the system that preceded Ballot Measure 110 was flawed.  He does think the new system needs some adjustment, including better data collection and some sort of penalties for people who refuse to engage in treatment.