PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A group of business and civic leaders filed a ballot initiative Monday to change aspects of Measure 110, Oregon’s voter-approved measure that decriminalized possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.

“This measure is about reforming Measure 110, restoring minor criminal penalties for those hard drugs and helping move people into treatment and recovery through mandated treatment, and a diversion program that upon completion allows those criminal penalties disappear from their record,” said Max Williams with the Coalition to Fix and Improve Measure 110.

The initiative would prohibit the use of hard drugs in public places, make possession of lethal drugs (like fentanyl, meth and heroin) a crime again, replace voluntary treatment with required addiction treatment and prioritize diversion and treatment over prosecution and jail.

It would maintain using cannabis taxes for addiction treatment but it would also expand penalties for drug dealing.

The writers of the initiative say a key component following successful treatment is clearing a person’s criminal record so it doesn’t haunt them later in life.

Max Williams of the Coaltion to Fix and Improve Measure 110, September 18, 2023 (KOIN)
Max Williams of the Coalition to Fix and Improve Measure 110, September 18, 2023 (KOIN)

“That’s the main substance of what we’re trying to accomplish here, we believe it’s one step out of many in this ballot measure that will actually allow us to move forward from the current place we are at with Ballot Measure 110,” said Williams, a former state lawmaker. “We can do better, Oregon can do better, we need to do better.”

How it would work

The way the measure is written, someone caught with illegal drugs will first be offered a pre-booking diversion program. Upon agreeing, they would receive addiction and recovery treatment, meaning they’d never see a prosecutor, court room or jail cell.

If they fail this program, or the person turned down the offer for the pre-booking diversion program from the onset, then they’d receive a citation or arrest.

This option would lead them to a more traditional court process, similar to a DUII. The Department of Justice would divert the criminal case to mandatory diversion under the supervision of a probation officer, who is responsible for monitoring offenders and ensuring they comply with the conditions of substance use disorder treatment.

If someone successfully completes the mandatory diversion and treatment, their charges are expunged.

If they fail this program and don’t comply with the court orders, then they’re prosecuted and put on mandatory probation. From there they must complete drug evaluations and drug treatment. If completed, their criminal conviction once again is expunged.

The writers of the measure said they are taking a mandatory approach versus voluntary, but also using the criminal justice system as minimally as necessary in order to get people who are in the deepest addictions out of that destructive cycle.

The coalition in support of Measure 110 says these changes would negate the progress made so far.

“Ultimately what they’re proposing is to go back to the failed policies that we had for the last five decades which got us into this mess,” said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance.

The Coalition to Fix and Improve Measure 110 said this amendment could come before Oregon voters in November 2024. Or, they said, Gov. Tina Kotek or the legislature could act with greater urgency and pass the initiative’s language when they meet in February — or sooner in a special session.