BENTON COUNTY, Ore. -- Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson believes that voter-approved drug decriminalization reform is behind a recent rise in crimes that involve drug use in the county.
Measure 110 is a first-of-its-kind reform in the country that lowered possessing small amounts of drugs to a violation-level offense, punishable by a $100 fine that can be waived by a health assessment over the phone.
While the manufacture and distribution of drugs is still a criminal offense, Haroldson said he believes the rules have made it easier to deal drugs.
"If it's easier to deal drugs, that means there's going to be more drugs available. Folks will be more likely to use drugs," he said.
According to Haroldson, police officers in Benton County were picking up a suspect on a warrant recently who was bragging about selling drugs specifically in violation-level quantities, and handing out the phone number for the health assessment to waive any potential fines should a user be caught.
"We see evidence of dealers that are specifically selling in the user amount so that if they get caught, it doesn't rise to the level of a crime, and then they are able to avoid any sort of consequence by simply calling the number that would waive the fine," said Haroldson. "That it was, in essence, weaponizing Measure 110 to facilitate the dealing of drugs."
Where Haroldson sees an opportunity for drug dealers, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel sees an opportunity to connect addicts to treatment.
"Drug quantities being sold are smaller and people are being referred to treatment, and prosecutors don't like it? I don't understand that," he said.
While the measure's opponents say the untested approach could have devastating consequences, Hummel said that the decades-old war on drugs was already a failure. Combined with new and expanded treatment resources promised by the measure, Hummel said he believes it's a step in the right direction.
"I'm confident this new way will work. But if it doesn't work, let's come up with a third way. But I'm not going to hold onto the system that's failed for 100 years because I'm reluctant to try something new," he said.
But Haroldson isn't so sure the evidence he's seen in Benton County is pointing to good outcomes. He said that agencies statewide will need to keep a close eye and continue evaluating the impacts of Measure 110.
"Whether or not this is something that's going to take us to a better place or if we are going to have to take a harder look," he said.