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Measure 110 won't increase drug treatment

No one can deny that Oregon has a problem with drug addiction, and more treatment is needed to address it. Ballot Measure 110 sounds like a rational approach that will stop sending addicts to jail and get them into treatment instead, but it won’t.

The measure would decriminalize the possession of user quantities of illegal drugs, defined as 1 gram or less of heroin, 2 grams or less of cocaine and methamphetamine, less than 1 gram of MDMA, 40 doses or less of LSD, 12 grams or less of psilocybin, 40 doses or less of methadone and 40 pills or less of oxycodone. Those cited would have the choice of paying a $100 fine or enter treatment.

The measure would divert at least $57 million in marijuana tax proceeds to set up “Addiction and Recovery Centers” around the state. That money currently goes to schools (40%), state mental health, alcoholism and drug services (20%) and local governments (20%). The Oregon State Police gets 15%, and the Oregon Health Authority 5%.

All those recipients would get less money if 110 passes; the State School Fund would lose an estimated $73 million in the next biennium.

If all that money were being spent to increase the number of treatment beds available in the state or pay the cost of residential treatment for those who cannot afford it, that would be one thing. But that’s not what would happen. The Addiction and Recovery Centers would provide screening and referral, connecting addicts with treatment services that already exist.

The problem is, there aren’t enough treatment slots available now, and those that do exist have waiting lists weeks or months long. That’s assuming the addicts in question have private insurance to pay the cost. Medicaid — the Oregon Health Plan — doesn’t cover residential treatment.

Measure 110 is backed by the Oregon Nurses Association, physician groups, labor unions and religious leaders. The campaign is financed by the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which spent $3.5 million. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife donated $500,000 from their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to revamping the criminal justice system.

Opponents include Oregon Recovers, a statewide coalition of people in recovery, the Oregon Council on Behavioral Health, which lobbies on behalf of treatment providers, and The Oregon District Attorney’s Association.

There is a widely held perception that the criminal justice system routinely locks up drug users just for using. The reality is much different — especially in Jackson County, where the jail is so overcrowded that nonviolent offenders are rarely lodged for more than a few hours. And treatment is already offered to drug offenders. Jackson County’s Drug Court has been a leader in diverting people with drug addictions away from jail and toward recovery programs.

More drug treatment is definitely needed, especially for those who cannot afford it. But Measure 110, no matter how well-intentioned, won’t deliver that.

We recommend a no vote on Ballot Measure 110.