Oregon’s state legislature just reduced penalties for drug possession in a bill also intended to reduce racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.
H.B. 2355 passed both the House and Senate last week and reduces possession of illegal drugs to misdemeanors rather than felonies as long as the person in possession does not have prior drug convictions. According to a press release issued on July 7 by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the bill provides for “the reduction of penalties for lower level drug offenders. The bill also reduces the maximum penalty for Class A misdemeanors by one day to avoid mandatory deportation for misdemeanants.”
According to the text of the bill, drugs like LSD, MDMA, cocaine, meth, oxycodone, and heroin are essentially decriminalized in small amounts. Each drug listed is accompanied by the following text, indicating possession is only a felony if:
“(a) The person possesses a usable quantity of the controlled substance and: (A) At the time of the possession, the person has a prior felony conviction; (B) At the time of the possession, the person has two or more prior convictions for unlawful possession of a usable quantity of a controlled substance.”
The “misdemeanor” title applies for varying amounts of different drugs. For example, the maximum allowable amount of acid is up to “40 units,” while individuals may have up to five MDMA pills or less than one gram before their “offense” crosses the line into a felony. Less than two grams of cocaine constitutes a misdemeanor.
As Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Democrat representing Portland, told Portland-based health outlet the Lund Report:
“We’ve got to treat people, not put them in prison. It would be like putting them in the state penitentiary for having diabetes… This is a chronic brain disorder and it needs to be treated this way.”
“When you put people in prison and given them a felony conviction, you make it very hard for them to succeed,” he added.
The bill also reduces probation periods for both felony and misdemeanor drug charges. According to the updated text of Section 19 of ORS 137.633:
“(1) A person convicted of a felony or a designated drug-related misdemeanor and sentenced to probation or to the legal and physical custody of the supervisory authority under ORS 137.124 (2) is eligible for a reduction in the period of probation or local control post-prison supervision for complying with terms of probation or post-prison supervision, including the payment of restitution and participation in recidivism reduction programs”
The same bill also imposes guidelines and requirements to reduce government profiling based on an “individual’s real or perceived age, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, homelessness or disability, unless the agency or officer is acting on a suspect description or information related to an identified or suspected violation of a provision of law.”
The rules will apply to agencies such as state police, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the District Attorney’s office, and even universities and tribal governments. Police will be required to have mechanisms in place for individuals to file complaints of racial profiling, and the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training will be required to develop an educational program to reduce the practice.
According to a press release from Rosenblum’s office, the bill will “provide new levels of transparency in policing in Oregon. The law would result in the creation of a statewide system for the collection by law enforcement of pedestrian and traffic stop data. It would improve accountability by requiring this data to be analyzed and made available by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.”
The same press release, which was issued after H.B. 2355 passed the House and before it passed the Senate, appears to clarify why the drug penalty reductions and crackdowns on profiling are included in the same legislation:
“[The bill] would also reduce drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor for those individuals in possession of small amounts of drugs who do not have substantial criminal histories. Oregon-based data provided to the task force demonstrated disparities that result in more minorities convicted and sentenced to drug-related felonies solely because of their racial or ethnic status. The bill will also protect lawful immigrants from facing mandatory deportation for low-level, non-violent offenses.”
Rosenblum praised the bill’s passage:
“This legislation, intended to implement the 2015 law prohibiting police profiling, is the culmination of a nearly two year process,” she said.
“Our Task Force traveled throughout the state listening to Oregonians sharing their experiences with profiling. The stories we heard were profoundly important and deeply impactful. Our law enforcement partners deserve special recognition for their willingness to come to the table on this crucial issue. I am particularly proud of the consensus of our broad-based group on all the critical issues that resulted in our bill.“