Portland City Council passes open-use drug ban

The Portland City Council passed an open-use drug ban Wednesday with a unanimous vote.
Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 4:51 PM PDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2023 at 10:18 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - The Portland City Council passed an open-use drug ban Wednesday with a unanimous vote.

The ordinance won’t alter BM 110, which was passed by voters in 2020 and decriminalizes the possession of hard drugs and will go into effect as soon as it’s authorized by the Oregon Legislature or a court approves the ban.

The Portland City Council passed an open-use drug ban Wednesday with a unanimous vote.

While there’s already an ordinance to ban drinking alcohol in public, the new ordinance would add controlled substances. Those who violate the ordinance could face a fine up to $500 or spend six months in jail.

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During public testimony, local business leaders from across Portland expressed their frustrations in how drug use has affected them.

Jeff Miller, CEO of Travel Portland, says in 2019 hotel occupancy was 85-90% in the summer. Now four years later, occupancy is at 63%. Miller says he believes the decrease in hospitality is linked to drug dealing and usage.

“Most cities rebook 70% of those conventions in Portland. We’ve rebooked 30%. They said we’re not coming back. Portland is too dangerous,” says Miller. “If leisure in business travel do not come back you as a city, and we as an organization will see those revenues dropped dramatically.”

David Friedericks of Portland Fire & Rescue Station 1 says his station alone responded to a total of 76 overdose calls over Labor Day weekend and calls the high volume of calls is disheartening.

In some cases we treat the same patient in the same week. And we know through our partners of AMR, that the same patient has overdosed multiple times in a day,” says Friedericks. “I know that even when we try to help, our help is unwanted, wares on all of us.”

Tony Vezina of 4D Recovery Services says he doesn’t think the ban will be efficient.

“It may just kind of hide addicts. I was an addict; I was on the street before I had to hide,” says Vezina. “It may create a limited intervention that is only applied to people we can see in downtown Portland smoking in front of businesses using fatal or high addictive drugs.”

Vezina believes there needs to be a sensible intervention and bring in additional resources to prevent people from getting addicted provide treatment are and provide long-term recovery support.

“Today is actually a very important day in the history of Portland,” Commissioner Mingus Mapps said. “All five members of council came together basically to ask the state legislature to give us the authority to regulate something as straight forward as whether or not you can smoke fentanyl on sidewalks, in parks, public parking garages. "

Earlier this year, Mayor Ted Wheeler withdrew the proposal to ban public drug use, stating the city was superseded by state law. On Wednesday, the new emergency ordinance was passed unanimously.

“What happens now is we have our lobbyists right over there,” Mapps said. “Sam Chase (the Interim Director of the Office of Government Relations)  who will be talking in our colleagues down in Salem and to the Governor, urging them to take this up in the short session. I believe this is a no brainer, that the legislature can knock out literally in an afternoon. Then once they do, that actually gives the city of Portland and every other city council across the state of Oregon the power to begin to regulate when or where people do hard drugs. Frankly, I would anticipate most jurisdictions, including the city of Portland, would say please do not smoke fentanyl on public sidewalks, in public parks, in public school grounds and public garages.”

“I think there is going to be multiple steps here,” Commissioner Rene Gonzalez said. “One is we are asking the legislature to take this up in the next legislative session. Second, I hope this gets the focus back on behavioral health in the region and how important it is to both get a sobering station up and running and other behavioral health assets in the City of Portland. We need to keep an eye on those pieces. Third, folks who are selling fentanyl and meth on the streets of Portland we need to go after in a very real way from a criminal justice perspective. All those things need to happen simultaneously. Not just one. It’s going to take multiple steps to address this issue.”

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Commissioner Dan Ryan says he hopes the city and Multnomah County can also work together to address the issue.

“What’s next is that the Mayor and the Chair, the city and the county, need to work together,” said Ryan. “Community safety is a joint effort. We are the first responders. The county is where we take people to treatment centers, to jail if necessary. That’s where the judicial system is, the courts. We need to work together on this as a team. I really hope the Mayor and the Chair bring us together and have a special session of our own locally. I really hope the state legislature gets it right in the short session. We obviously did it backwards; what we needed with Measure 110 was treatment centers first and then we could look at the decriminalization.”

Fox 12 was not able to speak with Commissioner Carmen Rubio following the council meeting. She did provide the following statement:

“Public spaces are created to provide all Portlanders, regardless of who you are, with safe and secure places to gather and enjoy each other and our city. I support the need to restrict public consumption of controlled substances, just like we regulate the public consumption of alcohol and cannabis. This ordinance will allow our police officers to stay focused on the most dangerous drugs currently on our streets.”