Lawmakers in the state of Oregon just passed a bill that will decrease penalties for drug possession in an effort to combat racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.
The bill, H.B. 2355, made it through both the House and Senate last week and lessens possession of illegal drugs to misdemeanors instead of felonies if the person in possession has not previously been convicted of any drug-related crimes. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum issued a press release on July 7 stating the bill provides for “the reduction of penalties for lower level drug offenders. The bill also reduces the maximum penalty for Class A misdemeanors by one day to avoid mandatory deportation for misdemeanants.”
According to the contents of the bill, drugs such as LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, meth, oxycodone, and heroin are basically decriminalized in small amounts. Additionally, the following passages are given with each of the drugs listed, specifying possession is only a felony if:
“(a) The person possesses a usable quantity of the controlled substance and: (A) At the time of the possession, the person has a prior felony conviction; (B) At the time of the possession, the person has two or more prior convictions for unlawful possession of a usable quantity of a controlled substance.”
The term “misdemeanor” applies to differing amounts of various drugs. For instance, the most acid one may have is up to “40 units,” while possession of up to five ecstasy pills or less than one gram is allowed before their “offense” turns into a felony. Less than two grams of cocaine amounts to a misdemeanor.
Portland Democrat representative Mitch Greenlick spoke about the issue to Portland-based health news source the Lund Report, and had this to say:
“We’ve got to treat people, not put them in prison. It would be like putting them in the state penitentiary for having diabetes… This is a chronic brain disorder and it needs to be treated this way.”
“When you put people in prison and given them a felony conviction, you make it very hard for them to succeed,” he added.
The bill also decreases the amount of time those convicted of either felony or misdemeanor drug charges need to serve. According to the updated Section 19 of ORS 137.633
“(1) A person convicted of a felony or a designated drug-related misdemeanor and sentenced to probation or to the legal and physical custody of the supervisory authority under ORS 137.124 (2) is eligible for a reduction in the period of probation or local control post-prison supervision for complying with terms of probation or post-prison supervision, including the payment of restitution and participation in recidivism reduction programs”
The same bill also imposes guidelines and requirements to reduce government profiling based on an “individual’s real or perceived age, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, homelessness or disability, unless the agency or officer is acting on a suspect description or information related to an identified or suspected violation of a provision of law.”
These new mandates will apply to a number of agencies, including state police, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the District Attorney’s office, as well as universities and tribal governments. Police will be required to have procedures set up for people to file racial profiling complaints, and the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training will be required to create an educational program to curtail this practice.
Rosenblum’s office submitted a press release, saying the bill will “provide new levels of transparency in policing in Oregon. The law would result in the creation of a statewide system for the collection by law enforcement of pedestrian and traffic stop data. It would improve accountability by requiring this data to be analyzed and made available by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.”
The same press release, which was issued after H.B. 2355 passed the House and before it passed the Senate, seems to shed light on why the drug penalty reductions and crackdowns on profiling are included in the same legislation:
“[The bill] would also reduce drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor for those individuals in possession of small amounts of drugs who do not have substantial criminal histories. Oregon-based data provided to the task force demonstrated disparities that result in more minorities convicted and sentenced to drug-related felonies solely because of their racial or ethnic status. The bill will also protect lawful immigrants from facing mandatory deportation for low-level, non-violent offenses.”
Rosenblum expressed his approval of the bill’s passage:
“This legislation, intended to implement the 2015 law prohibiting police profiling, is the culmination of a nearly two year process,” she said. “Our Task Force traveled throughout the state listening to Oregonians sharing their experiences with profiling. The stories we heard were profoundly important and deeply impactful. Our law enforcement partners deserve special recognition for their willingness to come to the table on this crucial issue. I am particularly proud of the consensus of our broad-based group on all the critical issues that resulted in our bill.“