Since decriminalizing minor possession of all drugs in November 2020, Oregon has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Politicians and opponents of harm reduction determined to blame Measure 110 for rising rates of homelessness and civil unrest—whether real or imagined—have done so despite the decrim measure still being too recent for those conclusions to be supported with data. (Data from the Drug Policy Alliance meanwhile show monthly drug possession arrests falling by 65 percent, and over 16,000 people accessing services as a direct result of Measure 110.)
Now, new evidence has emerged to suggest that so far, rates of so-called “crime” are the same as they were before Measure 110, and if anything have decreased somewhat.
Portland resident calls to 911 did not increase after Measure 110 took effect in February 2021. Nor is the current rate of calls out of pace with those in Sacramento, Boise and Seattle. Nonprofit research group RTI International analyzed public data on 911 calls in all four cities from January 2018 to July 2022. All showed the same overall trends.
“Disorder” calls—which often involve people who use drugs, lack housing or both—actually decreased slightly in Portland after Measure 110 was implemented. “Vice” calls—often weaponized against people who use drugs, engage in sex work or both—did the same.
Portland’s “property crime” calls increased—but so did Seattle’s, and the rates have since leveled out to where they were before Measure 110. The spike was associated with civilian uprisings in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, as well as with the normal seasonal increase in the summer months.
“Sometimes perception is not reality when it comes to public policy and specifically drug decriminalization.”
The researchers also interviewed people working in Oregon’s criminal-legal system, as well as others working in harm reduction, about their perceptions of crime rates before and after Measure 110. The former group—including police officers, correctional facility staff and district attorneys offices—believed crime had increased and that Measure 110 was the cause. The harm reduction workers believed that if there had been an increase, it could be reasonably explained by other factors.
“Sometimes perception is not reality when it comes to public policy and specifically drug decriminalization,” Dr. Hope Smiley-McDonald, director of RTI’s Investigative Sciences research program, stated in a press release. “This appears to be one of those cases. Since the treatment and harm reduction services were just funded in August 2022, more time is needed to see if the intended benefits of Measure 110—which is to support people who have substance use disorder with health services—will be realized.”
On August 31, the state finally approved the full $302 million accompanying Measure 110, funding that will expand treatment and harm reduction services.
Voters have continued to support Measure 110.
But in September, addiction experts heavily criticized Measure 110 in a hearing before the Senate judiciary committee.
“If Oregon continues on its current path of not complementing effective harm reduction with strong prevention and treatment initiatives, and of focusing harm reduction only on people who use drugs, it should expect rising drug use, addiction and harms to communities,” Keith Humphreys, director of the Stanford Network on Addiction Policy, stated during the informational hearing.
At a gubernatorial debate on October 4, all three candidates criticized Measure 110. Republican candidate Christine Drazan falsely accused it of fueling a rise in overdose deaths. Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson falsely accused it of fueling a rise in homelessness. Democratic candidate Tina Kotek said the rollout had been poorly executed and that the point of the measure had been to connect people to recovery services.
Kotek called for a meth stabilization center, while the other two candidates called for the measure to be kicked back to voters so it could be repealed. Voters, however, continue to support it.
Photograph via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0
The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, previously received a restricted grant from the Drug Policy Alliance to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.