Frequently Asked Questions
Why do Oregonians need better access to drug addiction treatment and recovery?
Oregon ranks nearly last in the country in access to drug addiction treatment. The waitlist to get treatment can be months long, and in some rural counties, there is practically no treatment at all.
This is one reason why one to two Oregonians die of drug overdoses every day, sometimes while they are waiting to get treatment. One in 11 Oregonians is addicted to drugs. Drug addiction exacerbates some of Oregon’s most pressing problems, such as homelessness and poverty. But instead of expanding access to treatment and recovery, Oregon has recently cut it, reducing general fund money for drug addiction treatment by 89%*. If we don’t do something soon, many more people will die.
*Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, 9/26/2019 10AM Meeting, “Economic Evaluation Handout”.
Are our current drug laws implemented in an equitable way?
No. Our drug laws are deeply inequitable, disproportionately targeting and impacting people of color and in poverty. Oregonians use drugs at about the same rate, regardless of the color of their skin. However, people of color are much more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted of drug crimes. People of color are also sentenced more harshly and forced to pay higher fines. That’s morally reprehensible.
At the same time, our current drug laws distort the priorities of police, who end up spending too much time arresting people that are addicted to drugs. Fortunately, as we’ve seen in Oregon, changing our approach to drugs can dramatically reduce these disparities.
Does Initiative Petition 44 legalize drugs?
No. The Act does not legalize any drugs.
It removes criminal penalties for low-level possession of all drugs, currently classified as misdemeanors, replacing them with a fine. These fines can be waived by being evaluated at Addiction Recovery Centers, which will be made available in all parts of the state, 24 hours a day.
- No change is made in the criminal code for delivery, manufacture, and other commercial drug offenses. These offenses will remain a crime.
- No change is made for other crimes that may be associated with drug use, such as driving under the influence and theft.
What's harmful about punishing people for drugs?
It is cruel, ruins lives and doesn’t work.
Turning people who are addicted to drugs into criminals drives them underground, where they are more likely to use drugs alone, get infected and die by overdose. We prevent them from getting critical information about safer practices, and we drive them away from getting services they may need, such as addiction treatment and housing. Criminalizing drugs ruins lives, because those with a criminal record are prevented from getting housing, jobs, student loans, professional licenses and more. Sometimes for their whole lives. In addition, punishing people for drug use is less effective than treatment—and it costs taxpayers a lot more.
How much does it cost to punish someone for drugs in a misdemeanor case?
About $23,000 to $35,000 per person per year, according to EcoNorthwest. That is more money than the state of Oregon sent school districts per student during the 2018-2019 school year and more money than the $9,000-$10,000 it typically costs to provide treatment. About 8,700 people were arrested last year in cases where simple drug possession is the most serious offense.
What does the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act do?
It changes our approach to drugs so that we have a health care approach, not a criminalization approach. It does this by:
- Greatly expanding access and funding to drug addiction treatment and services, reducing long wait lines and making those services available to all those who want and need them. Money will specifically go to: treatment; peer support and recovery services; transitional, supportive and permanent housing; harm reduction interventions; and more.
- Addressing drugs through a health care approach, not criminal punishments, which includes:
- Reclassifying some simple misdemeanor drug possession offenses, so that Oregon addresses drugs in a more effective, cost-effective and humane way, centered on health care, not punishment.
- Incentivizing people to get treatment. People in simple possession cases will be fined rather than criminally charged, and they can avoid paying that fine if they get a health assessment at an Addiction Recovery Center, where they are connected to treatment. At least one Addiction Recovery Center will be established in each Coordinated Care Service Region. At that health assessment, clients will be given an appropriate treatment and intervention plan, including warm handoffs to treatment and services that will, thanks to this Act, be greatly expanded.
- Establishing Addiction Recovery Centers. Anyone who wants treatment, not just those who have been fined for drug possession, can go to an Addiction Recovery Center to be assessed for treatment needs and be connected to services.
Who will be able to get treatment?
Anyone who wants and needs it. This Act allows for insurance to be billed, but people without insurance will also be able to get treatment.
Isn’t getting arrested an important way that people access services?
Research shows that outcomes for those who get treatment through an arrest or criminal diversion are no better, and sometimes worse, than for those who get no treatment at all.
Right now, many people and their families are stuck in a vicious cycle: They are reluctant to seek treatment because drug possession is a crime, but they desperately want and need help.
Although there are some who may seek treatment as the result of an arrest, the damage done by saddling someone struggling with addiction with a criminal record is vastly worse, stigmatizing them and often costing them jobs, housing, student loans, time, and separation from their family and support network, among other things.
Drug treatment is much more effective when people want it and when it is available on demand.
What does decriminalization mean?
If IP 44 passes and some drug possession charges are decriminalized, people who possess small amounts of drugs will no longer receive criminal records and criminal punishments. Instead, they will receive fines. These fines can be waived if the person receiving them is assessed at an Addiction Recovery Center. During this assessment, people with drug addictions will be connected to appropriate treatment and recovery services.
Decriminalization is important because criminal records ruin people’s lives, stigmatize them, and prevent them from getting housing, jobs, loans, and more. As a result, criminal records can make it much harder to recover. A fear of criminal punishments also makes many people with addictions afraid to get treatment. Decriminalization is an important part of shifting to a health-based approach to drugs and addiction.
How is all this new treatment paid for?
It’s paid for with excess revenue from Oregon’s existing marijuana tax. The state estimated that when marijuana legalization was fully implemented, tax revenue would be between $17 million a year to $40 million a year. However, marijuana tax revenue has actually been much higher than that. This initiative only applies to marijuana tax revenue that’s above $45 million.
How exactly does the funding work?
The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act directs all marijuana revenue above $45 million to go to services such as drug addiction treatment, recovery, harm reduction, peer support and housing. The other $45 million will continue to go where it does now, for schools, public safety and drug addiction treatment and services. By the time the Act takes effect, Oregon is expected to take in about $146 million in marijuana revenue.
Who decides how the money will be spent?
The Act established an Oversight and Accountability Board. That board, appointed by the Oregon Health Authority, will consist of the following people: a representative of the Oregon Health Authority, Health Systems Division Behavioral Health Services; three members of communities that have been disproportionately impacted by existing drug laws; a physician specializing in addiction medicine; a licensed clinical social worker; an evidence-based substance use disorder provider; a harm reduction services provider; a person specializing in housing services for people with substance use disorder or a diagnosed mental health condition; an academic researcher specializing in drug use or drug policy; at least two people who suffered or suffer from substance use disorder; at least two recovery peers; a mental or behavioral health provider; a representative of a coordinated care organization; and a person who works for a non-profit organization that advocates for persons who experience or have experienced substance use disorder.
Where exactly will the money go?
The money will be distributed through a grants program, to either existing providers or new providers where none currently exist, to provide:
- substance use disorder treatment;
- peer support and recovery services;
- supportive housing for persons with substance use disorders; and
- harm reduction interventions.
Will these services be available to all parts of Oregon?
Yes. The measure calls for at least one Addiction Recovery Center in each coordinated care organization service area in the state. Each Center will provide 24/7 triage, to assess a client’s need for immediate medical or other treatment. Staff at the Centers will conduct a comprehensive behavioral health needs assessment for each client and provide warm hand-offs to services. There will also be a telephonic Center to ensure access.
Does the measure create an efficient system?
Yes. Instead of setting up a parallel, duplicative bureaucracy, Addiction Recovery Centers can be operated by existing qualified service providers. It will not put current providers out of business; instead, it will provide substantial additional resources to existing providers to ensure that more people can be served.
How will the measure improve the system?
Oregon’s treatment system needs to serve way more people, and this Act allows for such improvements and makes them easier to implement. In addition to de-linking treatment from criminal penalties, this measure will ensure people who are experts on drugs, health and equity will decide where the money goes. The Oversight and Accountability Board can reward programs that do good work with proven outcomes, and audits will allow for evaluations of where the money is going and how effectively it is being used.
What is the timeline once the Act passes?
The Drug Treatment and Recovery Act will be on the November 2020 ballot. The Oversight and Accountability Council will be appointed on Feb. 1, 2021. At the same time, a temporary telephone Addiction Recovery Center will be established and simple misdemeanor drug possession will be reclassified, ensuring that people who would have been arrested for drugs will instead, on Day 1 of decriminalization, be connected to evaluation and services. The Council will establish rules to begin distributing grant money by June 30, and the physical Addiction Recovery Centers will be assigned or established by October 2021. Addiction Recovery Centers can be at existing facilities that already do similar work, but there will be at least one Addiction Recovery Center in each Coordinated Care Organization region.
Who’s behind the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act? How was it written?
The chief petitioners of this initiative petitioner are Haven Wheelock of Outside In; Janie Gullickson of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon; and Anthony Johnson, an attorney and executive director of Oregon’s successful campaign to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana.
The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act was written in collaboration with a team of drug policy experts at the Drug Policy Alliance, which has worked on drug policies in countries, states, counties and cities around the world, including Oregon. This Act is based on the most successful models used in other parts of the US and around the world, and is tailored specifically to Oregon.
More than 25 people in Oregon who work in treatment, addiction and recovery provided input into this measure, along with many experts on equity, economics, criminal justice, civil liberties, ballot measure campaigns, law, Oregon state politics, and more. An Oregon lawyer who specializes in writing Oregon ballot measures was the lead writer of the measure. The campaign team lives and works across Oregon.
 Organizations named for identification purposes only.