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Local officials ask governor to amend BM 110

Linn County Communications Officer

Linn County Communications:

A coalition of local officials including county, city and school leaders are asking Governor Tina Kotek to amend Ballot Measure 110 and make the possession of Class I federal narcotics – such as heroin, cocaine and meth – state crimes and include punitive sanctions for both adults and juvenile.

The letter was also sent to every member of Oregon’s Legislative delegation.

Measure 110 effectively decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, making them misdemeanors carrying a fine of just $100, which would be forgiven if the person sought addiction help.

A recent state audit indicated more than $300 million of Oregon’s marijuana tax funds have been diverted under Ballot Measure 110, with little accountability of how that money has been used.

Local officials say that since the passage of the measure in 2020 and implementation in 2021, communities in our county – and statewide – have seen increased drug use and overdoses, increased property crimes and families and children suffer.

Roger Nyquist, chair of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, believes the intent of Ballot Measure 110 is “not coming to fruition … addiction is up and the number of addicts accessing treatment is down.”

Andy Gardner, superintendent of Greater Albany Public Schools, Ballot Measure 110 has “profoundly impacted how our kids view drugs,” adding “Oregon adults now have more access to controlled substances than ever before and now face fewer repercussions for possession or usage.”

He is worried that the acceptance of drug use in Oregon will create addiction issues at younger ages and will “affect future generations of kids.”

“Ballot Measure 110 is a disaster,” Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny said, adding that advocates saw it as something that would increase treatment for addicts, but that is not the case.

“We need to always remember that one function of law is to declare moral standards of the community.  Law communicates the expectations we all have for one another,” he said.

Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan spent several years working drug cases and said it often took an arrest and a court appearance for someone with a drug addiction to “hit rock bottom” and realize they needed help. 

“There is no stigma about drug use anymore,” Sheriff Duncan said. “Kids think it’s OK because there are no consequences.”

Local homeless shelters are seeing increased drug overdoses to the point the need for Narcan and training was a topic at a recent meeting of local groups interested in helping homeless people in Albany.

Torri Lynn, director of the Linn County Juvenile Department said that although Ballot Measure 110 is supposed to redirect funds to treatment programs, virtually no money was designated for juvenile programs.

Lynn said that in 2021, Senate Bill 817, “eliminated all fines and fees for juveniles,” affecting the Juvenile Department’s ability to respond to any citations with anything other than providing a phone number to the hotline for a youth who is in possession of heroin, methamphetamines or cocaine.

The state audit showed the cost of operating a telephone hotline for people cited with drug possession, cost $7,000 per call. Of about 100 callers, only 28 actually asked for addiction recovery services assistance.

Justin Thomas, director of Linn County’s Alcohol & Drug Programs, said “The unfortunate downside of the measure is that more people may be using substances with the assumption that there are little to no consequences since the legal ramifications have been drastically reduced.”

Thomas added, “The practice of making substance use more socially acceptable is troubling to treatment providers because of the progressive nature of addiction that occurs when one uses substances consistently over time. In Linn County, we have not seen a decrease in the requests from people to access alcohol and drug treatment with the implementation of Measure 110.”

Local businesses are also seeing increased issues stemming from community drug use.

Janet Steele, president of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, said that organization is “extremely concerned that the state has legalized the possession of small amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, LSD, meth and oxycodone.”

“Like Albany residents, businesses are seeing the negative effects of Oregon’s drug laws and face the day-to-day reality of people with addictions and homeless issues harming themselves, employees, customers and buildings,” Steele said.

In a letter to the City Council, Albany Mayor Alex Johnson II said the community is doing what it can to combat drug and homeless issues, “However, the increases in vandalism, disruption of operations, assaults and littering are very evident around our city. These criminal acts put the citizens of Albany, as well as Albany businesses, at risk. They endanger staff and facilities, impact productivity and damage our ability to attract investment and create healthy economic growth. The current situation cannot be allowed to continue.”

The letter was signed by Albany Chamber of Commerce President Janet Steele, Albany Mayor Alex Johnson II, Greater Albany Public Schools Superintendent Andy Gardner, Linn County Commissioners Roger Nyquist, Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker, District Attorney Doug Marteeny, Sheriff Michelle Duncan, Juvenile Director Torri Lynn, Alcohol & Drug Director Justin Thomas and Sweet Home Mayor Susan Coleman.

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