A strong majority of Oregonians continue to support Measure 110, the state’s historic drug decriminalization initiative that voters approved almost two years ago, a new poll shows. Besides decriminalizing drug possession, the measure also invested hundreds of millions in extra funding for substance use treatment and other critical services. The public’s clear backing comes as many law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and two out of three current gubernatorial candidates have loudly opposed the law. Without evidence, they claim it will worsen drug-related harms and crime.
“It’s really nice to see this despite some of the opponents’ constant attacks over the last several months.”
The new survey asking Oregon voters about their feelings on Measure 110 was released by Data for Progress on September 12. Here are some of the results:
*Asked if the state should address drug use and addiction through public health approaches or the criminal justice system, 72 percent chose public health. A majority of voters in all the state’s regions favored this approach.
*Asked if the state should repeal Measure 110, 58 percent of voters wanted to keep it in place. That includes 82 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Independents and 31 percent of Republicans.
*The survey broke down Measure 110 into its individual provisions, and tested the popularity of each. Majorities of voters supported the elements of peer mentoring, employment assistance, recovery services, health care, housing, harm reduction, and ending criminal penalties for drug use.
*The survey asked voters what they think is contributing to crime and homelessness in Oregon. Given two choices, 69 percent believed it’s due to many factors “including poverty, lack of affordable housing and untreated mental health problems.” Only 28 percent believed it’s “mainly due to increased drug addiction and the failure of law enforcement to make arrests due to Measure 110.” (Notably, 53 percent of Republicans agreed with the latter statement.)
“This is an exciting time for Measure 110,” Kellen Russonellio, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been instrumental in supporting the measure, told Filter. “We have this new polling that shows people are overwhelmingly still in support. It’s really nice to see this despite some of the opponents’ constant attacks over the last several months.”
According to data from DPA, drug possession arrests decreased significantly after Measure 110 took effect in February 2021. Monthly arrests decreased by 65 percent, and this trend has held throughout the first half of 2022. That in itself represents an enormous benefit to marginalized people who use drugs.
And the new survey arrives just weeks after the state reached an important milestone related to the measure. On August 31, the Oversight and Accountability Council approved all of the $302 million allocated to expand substance use services during the 2021-2023 biennium. Since Measure 110 was approved, drug-user advocates have had to fight the governor to have this funding issued, while opposing Republican efforts to take away part of the money to pay for more police. The delay in the release of funds has been damaging to service providers and users. Now, the money is being distributed to 237 different providers statewide, increasing low-barrier treatment, peer support, harm reduction, housing and employment services.
“We want to make sure there is more stability and sustainability for [providers] since they are committing to expanding programs and building out services; as long as they’re meeting thresholds they need that certainty so they can keep staff, agree to rent and [meet their other needs],” Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, told Filter. Her organization is responsible for helping to implement the expansion of substance use services.
Thanks to Measure 110 and despite the funding delay, thousands of people have accessed treatment and services who otherwise would not have done.
Despite these advances, Measure 110 has faced opposition and pushback, especially from law enforcement. The measure has frequently been criticized by police and district attorneys, who’ve argued it will not help people receive treatment, will drive an increase in crime, and will even attract more people to Oregon to use drugs. No evidence supports these claims; on the contrary, thanks to Measure 110 and despite the funding delay, thousands of people have accessed treatment and services who otherwise would not have done.
Opponents have also questioned the measure’s plan to have citations replace arrests, with a $100 fine that’s waived if the person calls the state’s hotline for a substance use assessment. In October 2021, Judicial Department data showed that roughly half of people who received citations did not appear in court, while only 51 people called the hotline for an assessment.
But opponents of criminalization and coercive treatment would not gauge the success of Measure 110 by these metrics. And most people who access the services that the law supports do so at the community level, not through the citations/hotline pathway. According to data released by the Oregon Health Authority in February, over 16,000 people were able to access services as a result of the first round of Measure 110 funding.
Hurst conceded there have been challenges in getting people to follow the hotline process, but said that is because the state hasn’t made “a big effort to put money behind it to do the marketing.” She added that service provision in general is where the focus should be, and that the state should use its resources to raise awareness of what now exists and how people can best access it. “Only then will we start seeing those big results.”
It’s particularly unfair for opponents to call Measure 110 ineffective, Russonellio added, when the full amount of money promised for increased services is just now going out. “I’m hopeful that as the money flows into the service providers and they hire peer and outreach workers, that folks will be more connected to services,” he said.
Hurst cautioned that some policymakers will likely try again to divert funding away from service providers to police budgets. And other lobbying efforts may try to repeal the decriminalization provisions entirely.
But in the face of such opposition, Measure 110 supporters now have a powerful weapon: knowing that the state’s voters continue to stand firmly behind its mission to decriminalize drugs and invest in vital services.
DPA previously provided The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, with a restricted grant to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.