PORTLAND, Ore. — The three women who want to be Oregon's next governor clashed over the biggest issues facing the state, including the landmark law that decriminalized small amounts of hard drugs while increasing funding for drug treatment.
Republican candidate Christine Drazan, nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, and Democrat candidate Tina Kotek, shared their opinions on Measure 110 during Tuesday night's gubernatorial debate on KATU.
KATU's Steve Dunn helped moderate the debate and asked the three candidates if they would change any part of the measure and, if so, how?
Drazan called the measure a "failure," citing the increased rate of drug overdose deaths in Oregon. Overdose deaths have been rising each month since March 2019, according to CDC data, long before Measure 110 was approved by Oregon voters and implemented.
"We have got to repeal Measure 110," Drazan said. "As I have been on the campaign trail, I have heard from Oregonians across our state who have real concerns about the impacts of Measure 110 in their families and in their communities and they absolutely are calling for leadership on this issue - I will provide that leadership."
Drazan said she would call on the state legislature "to refer a measure back out to voters which removes the portion of the measure that decriminalized possession of hard drugs and instead commit to continue to fund supportive services and give people the opportunity to get into treatment so that they can enter into a lifetime of recovery."
Johnson said she would also re-refer Measure 110 to the state legislature to ask them to re-refer it to the voters.
"I think it was sold to voters in a very disingenuous way, and I think we need an honest conversation about the nexus between lethal drugs, homelessness, mental health deterioration, crime, and violence. It’s all inextricably tied," Johnson said.
Advocates working in homeless services told KATU in June 2022 that while addiction is often a main contributor to homelessness, lax drug laws are not leading to more people living on the street.
In her answer Tuesday night, Johnson disagreed.
"Oregon’s laissez-faire attitude about drugs has accelerated much of our urban decay and has led to death and violence. We absolutely need to re-examine Measure 110 before we waste a whole lot of money. I think it needs to be scrapped, started over with an honest conversation."
Kotek urged Oregonians to treat drug addiction and substance use "like the healthcare issue it is."
Although, Kotek admitted Tuesday night that Measure 110's implementation has not gone well. Top leaders in the Oregon Health Authority admitted that the efforts to get millions of dollars in funding to treatment centers and related services have been botched.
"I think Governor Brown has been absent in making sure those dollars got out in an efficient and effective manner. We have to make sure the providers - and the goal was to provide more recovery and treatment for individuals who are ready to come and recover from their addiction - we need to make that happen. We don’t throw in the towel. We don’t send people away. We make sure that they have the services they need."
Kotek called for the state, Portland in particular, to open a meth stabilization center. Plans are underway to open and operate one of these centers in the city, according to a June 2022 update from The Lund Report.
"We need a place for cops to take folks, not the emergency department, when they are in a meth-related psychosis," Kotek said.
Oregonians overwhelmingly voted 'yes' on Measure 110 in November 2020. Backers of the ballot measure hailed it as a revolutionary move for the United States. Two years later, those same supporters are pleading for patience while high-profile critics and opponents are already wanting to repeal the law.
As KATU has reported, a poll released in September showed the controversial drug law still has strong support statewide. The self-described progressive polling group Data For Progress conducted a survey of 1,051 likely voters in Oregon, showing that 58% of people think Measure 110 should remain in place while 36% think it should be repealed. And if you compare that to November 2020, when Oregonians actually submitted their ballots and voted to approve the measure, the margin is about the same. Roughly 58% voted 'yes' to approving Measure 110 on the 2020 ballot while about 42% voted 'no.'
RELATED | Oregon's move to decriminalize hard drugs a failure, critics say
After plodding through what has been described as a slow process by Oregon health officials, the Measure 110 Oversight and Accountability Council finally approved the 36th and final Oregon county for drug treatment and recovery services funding in late August.