PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland City Council unanimously voted Wednesday to ban the use of controlled substances like fentanyl within the city’s public spaces — if and when it has the power to do so.
Due to a preexisting state law (ORS 430.402), local governments within the state of Oregon lack the authority to prohibit the public consumption of controlled substances. While the emergency ordinance adopted by the city council Wednesday has no current effect on local drug-use laws, the ordinance would immediately go into effect if state lawmakers amend ORS 430.402, or if a court granted local governments that power.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler introduced the ordinance Wednesday by praising the city council for working together on the ordinance.
“At a time when government is largely seen as highly divided, our actions stand in sharp contrast to that,” Wheeler said. “We’re here today as a united council to advocate for the betterment of our community.”
In response to this discrepancy between state and city law, the city council also unanimously passed a resolution that directs the city’s Office of Government Relations to work with the state legislature to find solutions for improving Portland’s health and public safety. One of the directives listed in the resolution is to work with state lawmakers to amend ORS 430.402 and “empower local governments to enact and enforce” laws related to the public consumption of controlled substances.
“Illustrating how important this issue is: The last time I saw somebody consuming what I believed to be fentanyl publicly on our streets was less than 5 minutes ago, 3 minutes from City Hall,” Wheeler said. “This is a significant issue and I hope the unified actions of the council today will certainly inspire our legislature to take this issue seriously.”
Commissioner Mingus Mapps called the combination of Portland’s fentanyl crisis and the limitations presented by ORS 430.402, a “crazy state of affairs.”
“If this council has the power to regulate the consumption of alcohol or tobacco or cannabis on our sidewalks, we sure as heck should have the authority to regulate the consumption of fentanyl on our sidewalks too,” Mapps said. “I sure hope that the state legislature, the next time they come together, could just take an afternoon to pass this common sense reform that would make it much easier for this city council and every other city council in the state to maintain order on their sidewalks, in their parks, in their parking garages. I think that’s very important and frankly I think that’s why we’re here today.”
The Portland City Council invited testimony from a revolving door of public and community leaders during Wednesday’s meeting, including representatives from Multnomah County, TriMet, Portland Fire and Rescue, Travel Portland, Prosper Portland, the Revitalize Portland Coalition and 4D Recovery.
Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who works as an emergency room doctor in the Portland area and represents Portland areas of Portland including Downtown and Old Town Chinatown, was the only county commissioner to address the city council during Wednesday’s discussion. Meieran joined the Portland City Council in partially attributing Portland’s ongoing fentanyl crisis to the effects of Measure 110, a voter-approved law that decriminalized minor drug possession in Oregon in 2020. Meieran also criticized the Multnomah County Health Department’s controversial purchase of more than $84,000 in smoking supplies earlier this year.
“I wish that the action that the county was known for around the fentanyl crisis was declaring a public health emergency rather than distributing straws and foil, but we have the potential to do things differently now,” Meieran said.
City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez said during Wednesday’s meeting that the ordinance was drafted in response to the public’s plea for safer streets.