Portland, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has announced that he will not proceed with a proposed ordinance to criminalize public drug use in the city. The decision comes after the passage of House Bill 2645 by the Oregon Legislature, which the mayor believes will provide Portland police with the necessary tools to address open drug use without requiring a ban on drug use itself.
House Bill 2645 establishes criminal penalties for possession of fentanyl, adding it to the list of drugs regulated by Oregon law. Possession of a gram or more of fentanyl, or five individual doses, is now considered a Class A misdemeanor, similar to heroin. Amounts less than a gram still result in a citation under Measure 110, which made possession of small quantities of drugs punishable with a $100 citation, waivable upon seeking treatment.
Class A misdemeanors carry penalties of up to 364 days in jail, a fine of up to $6,250, or both. Mayor Wheeler stated that HB 2645 addresses the concerns about the public health crisis in the city and provides necessary law enforcement tools that were originally envisioned in his proposed ordinance. Consequently, he has withdrawn the proposed ordinance and will focus on implementing HB 2645.
Wheeler acknowledged that he began drafting the amendment to criminalize public drug use due to uncertainty surrounding the passage of HB 2645 during the legislative session, which was delayed by a Senate Republican walkout. However, he admitted that the proposed ban might not have survived a court challenge.
State Representative Jeff Helfrich, co-chief sponsor of HB 2645, expressed his view that Wheeler should have reconsidered his proposal, given that the bill only addresses fentanyl. Helfrich expects a legal challenge to the law and emphasized the importance of holding people accountable for their actions.
Wheeler had intended to introduce his amendment during a city council session but has now praised the approval of HB 2645 by state leadership. He believes that the change will have a positive impact on the safety and health of Portland, acknowledging that enforcement of the state law will require time and patience as the Portland Police Bureau continues to increase resources and support for connecting individuals to treatment services.