Excerpted from OPB by Kristian Foden-Vencil
Big changes in Oregon’s drug laws take effect today.
After decades of waging a war on drugs, voters decided in November to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of everything from methamphetamines to heroin.
Under ballot Measure 110, police won’t pursue criminal charges if they find small amounts of illegal drugs on someone or in their car. Instead, that becomes a civil violation subject to a $100 fine. The person can either pay the fine or have it waived by attending a health screening.
Police and criminal justice agencies across Oregon are figuring out how to deal with the new law. Portland Police Officer Melissa Newhard thinks it may save officers time, as they can now simply write a ticket instead of taking someone to jail.
“This will be a little bit quicker, like a traffic stop,” she said. “But … we’re still going to get these people’s names. There will be that record that they have been stopped with illegal drugs on them, whether or not they went to jail.”
Newhard said officers may spend less time working with district attorneys, as they won’t have to discuss charges.
“We wouldn’t go to court for it as we might have in the past,” she said.
Newhard said the Portland Police Bureau has no plans to reduce the number of officers on the street because of the new law. Nor does she believe Measure 110 will reduce the number of times police search people they stop or their vehicles, because law enforcement is still tasked with preventing the sale of drugs. Newhard expects it will be relatively easy to distinguish between people carrying drugs for personal use and those carrying for sale. Officers can weigh contraband if necessary.
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