County drafts letter to Gov. Kotek on Measure 110

Law’s effectiveness questioned regarding drug possession

A coalition of local officials, including county, city and school leaders, are asking Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek to amend Ballot Measure 110 and make the possession of Class I federal narcotics – such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines – state crimes and include punitive sanctions for both adults and juveniles.

The letter was also sent to every member of Oregon’s Legislative delegation.

Passed in 2020, Measure 110 effectively decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, making them misdemeanors with a $100 fine, which would be forgiven if the offender sought addiction help.

A recent state audit indicated that more than $300 million of the state’s marijuana tax funds have been diverted under the measure, with little accountability of how that money has been used.

Local officials say that since the measure’s implementation in 2021, communities in Linn County – and statewide – have seen increases in drug use and overdoses, property crimes and suffering families.

County commissioners approved sending the letter to Gov. Kotek and state legislative leaders at their Feb. 14 meeting.

The letter was signed by Albany Chamber of Commerce President Janet Steele, Albany Mayor Alex Johnson II, Greater Albany Public Schools Superintendent Andy Gardner, Linn County Commissioners Roger Nyquist, Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker, District Attorney Doug Marteeny, Sheriff Michelle Duncan, Juvenile Director Torri Lynn, Alcohol and Drug Director Justin Thomas and Sweet Home Mayor Susan Coleman.

Roger Nyquist, chair of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, said that communities were seeing the new rules’ negative downside, adding that possession of hard drugs remains a federal crime.

He believed the measure’s intent was “not coming to fruition … addiction is up and the number of addicts accessing treatment is down.”

According to Greater Albany Public Schools Superintendent Andy Gardner, the measure has “profoundly impacted how our kids view drugs,” adding, “Oregon adults now have more access to controlled substances than ever before and now face fewer repercussions for possession or usage.”

He expressed concern that the acceptance of drug use would create addiction issues at younger ages and “affect future generations of kids.”

“Ballot Measure 110 is a disaster,” Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny said, adding that advocates saw it as something that would increase treatment for addicts, which he believed wasn’t the case.

“We need to always remember that one function of law is to declare moral standards of the community,” he said. “Law communicates the expectations we all have for one another.”

Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan spent several years working drug cases and said that it often took an arrest and a court appearance for someone with a drug addiction to “hit rock bottom” and realize they needed help.

“There is no stigma about drug use anymore,” she said. “Kids think it’s OK because there are no consequences.”

Local homeless shelters are seeing increased drug overdoses, resulting in discussions of the need for Narcan, a prescription medicine used to treat known or suspected opioid overdoses, and training at a recent meeting of local groups interested in helping Albany’s homeless population.

Linn County Juvenile Department Director Torri Lynn said that although Ballot Measure 110 was supposed to redirect funds to treatment programs, virtually no money was designated for juveniles.

Lynn said that in 2021, Senate Bill 817 “eliminated all fines and fees for juveniles,” which affected the department’s ability to respond to citations with anything other than a hotline phone number for youths in possession of heroin, methamphetamines or cocaine.

According to a state audit, the cost of operating a hotline was $7,000 per call. Of about 100 callers, only 28 actually asked for addiction recovery services assistance.

Justin Thomas, director of Linn County’s Alcohol & Drug Programs, said, “The unfortunate downside of the measure is that more people may be using substances with the assumption that there are little to no consequences since the legal ramifications have been drastically reduced.

“The practice of making substance use more socially acceptable is troubling to treatment providers because of the progressive nature of addiction that occurs when one uses substances consistently over time,” he added. ” In Linn County, we have not seen a decrease in the requests from people to access alcohol and drug treatment with the implementation of Measure 110.”

Local businesses also reported increased issues stemming from community drug use.

Albany Chamber of Commerce President Janet Steele said that her organization was “extremely concerned that the state has legalized the possession of small amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, LSD, meth and oxycodone.”

“Like Albany residents, businesses are seeing the negative effects of Oregon’s drug laws and face the day-to-day reality of people with addictions and homeless issues harming themselves, employees, customers and buildings,” she said.

In a letter to the City Council, Albany Mayor Alex Johnson II wrote that the community was doing what it could to combat drug and homeless issues.

“However, the increases in vandalism, disruption of operations, assaults and littering are very evident around our city,” he added. “These criminal acts put the citizens of Albany, as well as Albany businesses, at risk. They endanger staff and facilities, impact productivity and damage our ability to attract investment and create healthy economic growth. The current situation cannot be allowed to continue.”

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer