SOUTHERN, Ore. — In just four months, Oregonians will vote for a new governor to replace Kate Brown and that new governor’s handling of drug treatment and recovery services in the state is one of the top issues they’ll face.
News 10 spoke with Oregon’s gubernatorial candidates to get their thoughts on how Measure 110 has worked to address substance abuse so far and what changes they would push for if elected.
Betsy Johnson – Independent Candidate for Oregon Governor
Independent candidate for governor and former Oregon state representative Betsy Johnson said she believes Measure 110 has “without question” made the substance abuse problem worse in Oregon.
“Ballot Measure 110, which I campaigned against and I voted against,” Johnson said. “I look at it every day out in the streets. It’s compounded the substance abuse problem that we have.”
Beginning in February 2021, Measure 110 reclassified minor possession of drugs from a misdemeanor to a new Class E violation, and a large possession from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor.
“My basic philosophy is sort of like a stamp on an envelope. Return to sender,” Johnson said. “Rerefer, repeal and reform.”
The measure was created in an effort to treat substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue in Oregon. Johnson said, if elected, she would push for Oregon to return to the former, criminal justice system of dealing with smaller amounts of drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.
“I think we should (return to the previous system) because we had a bridge between addiction and recovery and that bridge is now gone,” Johnson said. “There’s no incentive for people who might want to avoid jail time or might want to avoid other consequences to seek recovery.”
So far, 4.6% of people ticketed for a Measure 110 violation have actually called Lines for Life for a health assessment to determine if they should seek drug treatment and recovery services. Taking that assessment removes the $100 fine associated with the Measure 110 citation.
Grants Pass Police Chief Warren Hensman, said from 2019 to 2022 year-to-date, they have seen a 520% increase in drug-related overdoses. They had five overdoses through June of 2019 and have 31 through June of this year. Johnson explained her message to law enforcement about their effort of giving citations to Measure 110 violators in hopes they seek help while they see overdose numbers rise.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you’re in this position. And I would promise them that when I’m you’re governor, this crap is going to change. It has to,” Johnson said. “I believe law enforcement’s voice ought to rise above others in saying, ‘these are the problems we’re seeing on the ground and these are our practical solutions.’”
In November of 2020, 58.5% of Oregon voters voted in favor of Measure 110’s approach of support over punishment for helping people deal with substance abuse. In May 2021, the first round of Measure 110 funding, which was $31.4 million, was distributed to organizations across the state assisting with drug treatment and recovery services.
Currently, the second round of funding, which is $265 million, has still not been distributed although complete Behavioral Health Resource Networks (BHRNs) have been approved in 20 of Oregon’s 36 counties. Across all counties, 167 total entities have been approved to enter the negotiation phase. Johnson said the approval and funding process for Oregon counties is not happening quickly enough.
“We promised all this money was going to get distributed. It’s stuck and marooned in Salem right now,” Johnson said. “I’m not convinced that even if the money were flowing as anticipated that we have the on-the-ground infrastructure to actually help people in recovery.”
News 10 asked Johnson, if elected, would she have a grace period to allow the $265 million of Measure 110 money to be distributed and start working toward helping people recover from substance abuse.
“I think it’s been too long, I’m going to not be very charitable with a grace period,” Johnson said. “This is a crisis, people are dying. And we need to treat it that way. And instead, we’re saying, ‘meh, we didn’t get the money out, meh we didn’t write the thing the way we should have.’ It needs to be repealed and reformed.”
Christine Drazan – Republican Candidate for Oregon Governor
Republican candidate and former minority leader of the Oregon house of representatives Christine Drazan also said she believes Measure 110 has made Oregon’s drug problems worse.
“I think it absolutely has contributed to the overdose rise,” Drazan said. “Measure 110 is a failed public policy and we need to reverse it as quickly as we can.”
News 10 asked Drazan if she is comfortable calling Measure 110 a failed policy already, when the remaining $265 million has yet to be distributed to BHRNs across the state to fund drug treatment. She explained why her answer is yes.
“The core issue here that makes it a failure is the legalization of hard drugs (smaller amounts), not the expenditures and supportive treatment,” Drazan said.
Drazan said she does not believe decriminalizing smaller amounts of drugs like heroin, meth and cocaine is the right approach to help people seek help with their addiction. She referenced the low number of people that have called Lines for Life to get their health assessment after getting a Measure 110 citation.
Through May of this year, according to the Oregon Judicial Department, Oregon officers issued 2,413 citations for minor possession amounts of illegal drugs and Lines for Life received 111 calls from those people cited.
“They’re just going to ignore that ticket. The statistics show that,” Drazan said. “There’s no reason not to.”
Drazan said she wants to rerefer Measure 110 back out to the voters with the hope that it will be repealed and reformed. She said the state needs stricter penalties for ignoring a Measure 110 citation and not getting help.
“If you are with law enforcement and your options are jail or a diversion program, I want people to choose a diversion program, I don’t want them to fill up the jails, that’s not what they need, they need treatment,” Drazan said. “I just think that we need to elevate the consequences and elevate the stakes again so that there is some motivating factor there for people to say ‘yes’ and to give it a chance. It might not work the first time. They need to be put in a position where that is the reasonable decision to make.”
Along with Drazan’s concerns about the decriminalization of smaller amounts of illicit drugs and calls for more severe consequences for an ignored citation, she also doesn’t support the way the BHRN units under Measure 110 are funded.
Before Measure 110 passed with 58.5% of the vote, all of the tax revenue collected from Oregon cannabis sales was divided between the State School Fund (40%), the Oregon Health Authority for mental health, alcohol and drug treatment programs (25%), state police (15%), cities (10%) and counties (10%).
Now, under Measure 110, those original programs get the first $45 million dollars in yearly cannabis taxes and any money on top of that goes to the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Services Fund, which supports Measure 110’s BHRNs across the state. Last year, that amounted to $125 million allocated to the fund.
“We have left over from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money, almost $500 million that’s unspent at this time. We have reserve funds and income balances,” Drazan said. “We have more than enough financial support today, without robbing local communities of their marijuana tax dollars that were helping them locally, to be able to fund what all Oregonians need.”
Tina Kotek - Democratic Candidate for Oregon Governor
Democratic candidate and former speaker of the Oregon house of representatives Tina Kotek and her team said they did not have a free 15 minutes for a Zoom interview to discuss her stance and goals for Measure 110.
News 10 had an interview scheduled with Kotek for Friday, June 10th.
However, Kotek’s Communications Director Katie Wertheimer canceled that interview the same day with no replacement day or time presented.
For the past two weeks, News 10 called, texted and emailed Wertheimer several times to reschedule the interview, however she eventually told News 10 Kotek’s schedule was “jam-packed.”
She said Kotek couldn’t find 15 minutes over the past two weeks to speak with News 10 on a Zoom call about Measure 110.
News 10 apologizes for not being able to present our audience with Kotek’s viewpoint on Measure 110 and we remain committed to trying our best to present all sides and viewpoints of topics that impact residents in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
Wertheimer provided a statement from Kotek on Measure 110.
"Oregonians overwhelmingly voted to pass Measure 110 because they believe that a health-based approach to addiction and overdose is more cost-effective and humane than criminal punishments. When someone is ready to go into treatment, we need to ensure there is a treatment bed or program ready and waiting for them so they can get the help they need when they are ready to receive it. I'm incredibly frustrated by the glacial roll out of the new funds. People need more help NOW."