Excerpted from a Forbes article by Alonzo Martinez

 In response to the escalating overdose crisis, Oregon legislators have approved House Bill 4002, which reverts the state’s pioneering drug decriminalization efforts, marking a significant shift in drug possession laws. The bill, which passed with a 21-8 vote in the Senate and 51-7 in the House, is now awaiting the signature of Governor Tina Kotek, who has indicated openness to rolling back decriminalization.

HB 4002 redefines the possession of small amounts of hard drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine, as a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of six months in jail. Additionally, it empowers law enforcement to seize drugs and address their use in public areas. However, the legislation offers avenues for drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration.

This move comes as a response to the shortcomings of the voter-approved Measure 110, which aimed to funnel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment and harm reduction programs. Despite these intentions, an audit report from 2023 revealed deficiencies in the state’s care network, ranking Oregon poorly in access to treatment.

The bill has sparked debate and emotional narratives among lawmakers, many of whom have personal experiences with addiction. While critics voice concerns about the disproportionate impact on communities of color, proponents argue that the legislation strikes a balance between public safety and access to treatment. With overdose deaths in Oregon skyrocketing during the pandemic, the urgency to address the addiction crisis has become paramount.

HB 4002 not only reintroduces criminal penalties for drug possession but also expands access to addiction medication and creates new addiction services facilities. The legislation reflects a shift away from the voter-led decriminalization policies in place for the past three years, marking a significant turning point in Oregon’s approach to drug regulation.

The passage of this bill may have implications for employers who conduct criminal background checks in Oregon. If the bill is signed into law, employers may expect to see more reports of drug-related crimes on criminal background checks. Since drug possession will become a misdemeanor offense for those individuals who refuse addiction treatment, individuals who were previously not flagged for drug offenses may subsequently have records related to drug possession.

Moreover, the passage of House Bill 4002 intersects with existing “ban the box” laws locally in Portland and statewide across Oregon, which separately govern inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history during the hiring process. Employers must traverse these overlapping regulations by reviewing and updating policies and procedures related to criminal background checks.

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