By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Earlier this month, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 110 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs such as cocaine, oxycodone, and methamphetamine.
Anyone found with the illegal drugs will receive violations instead of criminal charges and be directed to drug treatment programs.
The changes aren’t scheduled to begin until February 1st next year, but here in Deschutes County, the District Attorney is treating low-level drug offenses as though the law is already in effect.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel says there’s no meaningful distinction between people who commit low-level drug possession offenses the next two months and when the law takes effect in February, so he won’t treat them differently.
“Why should I punish someone more harshly who commits their offense in January then they would be punished if they committed their offense in February? If I can’t determine a valid basis for treating them differently, I’m not going to,” Hummel said.
Hummel says the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs will remain “big-time” felonies.
What’s changing is how individuals who are arrested in possession of small amounts of drugs for their personal use, will be issued violations–the equivalent of a traffic ticket–instead of misdemeanors which sends them into the criminal justice system.
“By lowering the penalty from a misdemeanor to a violation and referring somebody to a drug treatment; by having more treatment available and more affordable and having that treatment more evidence-based on effective methods, I’m confident people are going to get help for their addictions,” Hummel said. “That’s going to help them and their family and that’s going to result in less crime being committed in our community.”
But the heat’s not off yet.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is operating by the letter of the law and will continue citing individuals for misdemeanor drug offenses through January.
“Right now, these amounts of illegal substances are still a crime in Oregon,” aid Sgt. Jayson Janes, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office public information officer. “We will continue to treat them as a crime in Oregon until they no longer are.”
Hummel said for the past three years, the DA’s office, in partnership with the medical community, has been running a model for how to handle drug cases in the criminal justice system.
“I’ve diverted cases out of criminal justice into La Pine Health Center and Mosaic Medical. In essence, I’ve been doing what measure 110 is going to do statewide for 3 years. It’s not much new here,” he said.
Hummel says about 500 drug cases are presented annually to the District Attorney’s office.
He expects the number of drug cases to decrease as more offenders are directed to drug treatment instead of treated as criminals.