Media Contact

Christina Nguyen,

December 11, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. — Today, the Central City Task Force, convened by Gov. Kotek, released their recommendations for downtown Portland. The recommendations contain increased criminalization tactics including banning public use of controlled substances and a worrisome expansion of the definition of criminal delivery.

We all agree that state leaders must take swift action to address the drug addiction and homelessness crises across Oregon. However, criminalization is a false promise that will not solve these pressing societal issues; instead, criminalization will have unintended consequences, especially on Black and brown communities. The only known real solutions for reducing rates of addiction and eliminating public drug use are increasing access to treatment, housing, and supportive resources.

Sandy Chung, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon, stated: “Fifty years of the war on drugs, which hemorrhaged billions upon billions of tax dollars, showed us that the criminal system simply cannot solve societal concerns like addiction and homelessness that are health and poverty issues. Criminalization makes these crises more difficult and expensive to solve because the criminal system causes substantial trauma, increases overdose deaths, and creates barriers to addiction treatment, housing, education, and jobs – especially for Black and brown community members.”

Kelly Simon, Legal Director of the ACLU of Oregon, stated: “It is misleading to say or imply that prosecutors cannot prosecute attempted drug deliveries in Oregon under current law. Allowing prosecutors the ability to convict a person for drug delivery based on drug possession amounts was a war on drugs strategy in Oregon that didn’t work. But it did cause serious racial disparities. It makes no sense to return to such a failed and unfair system. The legislature should not give prosecutors their stamp of approval for taking shortcuts in having to prove their case. The presumption of innocence – that a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt – is a bedrock of the United States justice system. Ensuring the state does its due diligence in every criminal prosecution is an important check on the immense power of a prosecutor to take away a person’s freedom.”

Emily Hawley, Senior Policy Associate of the ACLU of Oregon, stated: “Beyond the humanitarian toll, in plain economic terms, criminalization is fiscally irresponsible. Oregon barely meets 50 percent of addiction outreach and treatment needs; diverting limited tax dollars away from desperately needed solutions to the failed, exorbitantly expensive tactic of criminalization is wasteful and inhumane. And Oregon jails and prisons are not equipped to deal with individuals struggling with addiction and withdrawal; fewer than half of Oregon’s jails and prisons provide drug treatment programs despite their constitutional obligations to care for people in custody."

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