Oregon Initiative Backed by Drug Policy Action Exceeds Necessary Signatures to Qualify for the 2020 Ballot

Press Release March 5, 2020
Media Contact

Matt Sutton

March 5, 2020 –– Today, the Oregon ballot initiative campaign backed by Drug Policy Action (DPA) announced it has already collected 125,000 signatures, exceeding the 112,020 needed to qualify for the ballot—and will continue collecting to ensure it is well within a safe margin for verification.

The proposed initiative, The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, would shift our response to drug use and addiction to a health-based approach, while also replacing criminal penalties for minor drug possession with a civil fine that serves to incentivize people found possessing drugs to undergo a voluntary health assessment. The expanded services would be funded through an estimated $100 million of existing marijuana tax revenue, which has been far greater than the state initially forecast.

Two of the campaign’s chief petitioners are longtime DPA partners. Haven Wheelock, of OutsideIn, leads one of the oldest harm reduction service providers in the country. Anthony Johnson was the executive director of Oregon’s successful campaign to legalize marijuana. The third chief petitioner, Janie Gullickson, serves as executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon. The ballot proposal will be put before Oregon voters in the November 2020 election.

“Oregonians are dying every day because they can’t access treatment. And in the meantime, if they are caught with drugs, they are criminalized, which only creates further barriers to accessing treatment and recovery. Oregon can do better,” said chief petitioner Janie Gullickson. “This Act would provide a two- fold solution: funding treatment through existing marijuana tax revenue, and creating an incentive for people to access treatment instead of burdening them with a criminal record.”

Oregon currently ranks nearly last in the nation in access to treatment. The measure seeks to expand the availability of treatment, peer support and recovery services, housing and harm reduction interventions. Additionally, by removing criminal penalties for simple possession, the initiative will encourage people to seek treatment and other services that they might otherwise avoid for fear of criminal consequences. In doing so, the measure will remove barriers to treatment and help save lives.

One striking example of successful implementation of policies similar to those in the Oregon initiative is the country of Portugal. In 2001, after experiencing a stark increase in overdose rates, as well as some of the highest prevalence of drug-related HIV and AIDS cases in the European Union, Portugal shifted away from criminalization and towards a health-centered approach to drug use. The results of this have been dramatic: the number of people voluntarily entering treatment has increased significantly, while overdose deaths, HIV infections, problematic drug use, and incarceration for drug-related offenses have plummeted.

While the fundamental elements of the measure are based on successful models used in other parts of the United States and around the world, the details are tailored specifically to Oregon. Oregonians partnered with DPA experts to draft the initiative. Those consulted include Oregonians who work in treatment, addiction and recovery, and in consultation with specialists on equity, economics, criminal justice, civil liberties, and more.

DPA has partnered with organizations in Oregon—such as the ACLU of Oregon and the Partnership for Safety and Justice—for many years, supporting their work for criminal justice reforms. In addition to these policy changes that have been successful and popular in Oregon, DPA supported legalizing marijuana in the state and worked with partners in Oregon to create access to medical marijuana, reduce civil asset forfeiture, establish harm reduction facilities and defelonize simple drug possession.

“Oregonians have always been early adopters of drug policies that shift the emphasis towards health and away from punishment,” said Theshia Naidoo, Managing Director of Criminal Justice Law and Policy, Drug Policy Action. “The idea behind this groundbreaking effort is simple: people suffering from addiction need help, not criminal punishments. Instead of arresting and jailing people for using drugs, the measure would fund a range of services to help people get their lives back on track. We are excited to partner with this grassroots campaign as they pave the way to a more humane, health-based approach to drug addiction.”

To date, the measure has already been endorsed by a wide spectrum of local, state and national organizations, including:

For more information and updates on the campaign, please visit yesonip44.org.