SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s Measure 110 decriminalized small amounts of hard drugs and directs funds toward recovery treatment. However, it eliminated laws that police traditionally used to stop public drug use — such as possession of a controlled substance.

This creates a situation where open drug use and dealing happen without any means of criminal consequences.

State lawmakers are trying to figure out what their public safety response will be to the state’s drug crisis ahead of the upcoming short session in February. On Monday, Sen. Kate Lieber and her colleagues on the Joint Interim Committee on Addiction and Community Safety Response asked law enforcement what needs to be done.

“We’ve got dual goals. We want to make sure people can be safe on our streets including the public, but we also want to make sure people get the help they need when they need it,” Lieber said. “We can’t have open air drug markets in our cities. It’s unacceptable.”

Oregon State Sen. Kate Lieber (D-Beaverton/SW Portland), November 6, 2023 (KOIN)
Oregon State Sen. Kate Lieber (D-Beaverton/SW Portland), November 6, 2023 (KOIN)

The multiple law enforcement officials who spoke, including Portland Police Association President Aaron Schmautz and Salem Police Detective Scotty Nowning, feel addiction is a health care issue that needs to be focused on treatment.

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But to tackle the problem of public drug use and dealing officers say there needs to be a criminal nexus to confiscate drugs.

“I think that street use being a misdemeanor is a mandatory reality given the kind of the posture on the streets in Portland today,” Schmautz said.

Nowning agreed. “Open air drug use, it’s a problem in Salem. It’s a problem in downtown. It’s directly correlated to the homeless issue. And I spoke to our homeless services team this morning. They estimate 80% to 90% of the homeless they’re dealing with in Salem are addicted to fentanyl.”

Schmautz said society has to decide what police should be doing and then they need to be given the tools and proper places to take people who are in crisis.

“If we can build up those trusting systems, it would reduce force. It would reduce negative interactions with law enforcement. It would provide people some hope,” he said.

Law enforcement officials said they need community support and compromise to deliver on that promise.

“Business owners are frustrated, homeowners are frustrated, park users are frustrated,” Nowning said. “Folks seeking treatment are frustrated when there’s not options.”

Representative Christine Goodwin asked police: “Would you say there is an urgency…for this legislative body to take action?”

“I think that if we don’t get along and figure out how to navigate all of the wonderful things we can all provide,” Schmautz said. “we are at the precipice of a 40-to-50 year downturn in the state.”