Council Introduces Resolution Directing City's Office of Government Relations to Advocate and Collaborate with Oregon Legislature to Address Portland’s Ongoing Drug Epidemic and Public Safety Issues
The City Council also jointly supports an Ordinance to Ban Consumption of Controlled Substances in Public Upon State Authority
Portland, Ore. – Next week, the Portland City Council is introducing a resolution that directs the Office of Government Relations to pursue partnerships with other Oregon local governments and the state legislature to collaborate on solutions to address the substantial impact of public consumption of controlled substances on community safety and public health, and to advocate with our partners to secure adequate resources to support alternatives to criminal punishment.
Additionally, City Council will bring forward a jointly-sponsored ordinance that proposes updates to Portland’s Public Order and Police Code. These changes will add consumption of a controlled substance to the City ordinance which already prohibits public consumption of alcohol. The prohibition on public consumption of controlled substances will go into effect immediately upon authorization by the Oregon Legislature or court action.
As written in the ordinance, once in effect, those convicted of violating the ordinance could receive a fine up to $500 or up to six months jail time as determined by the courts. However, the City—and our regional public safety partners—support alternatives to criminal punishment whenever practical when enforcing City Code.
Statements from Portland City Council:
“Addressing the public health crisis unfolding on our streets requires all of us working together to make the kind of systemic change our city needs,” said Mayor Wheeler. “We need all levels of government moving with urgency to prioritize ways we can help our communities struggling with behavioral health and substance abuse in a compassionate manner.”
“Portlanders, we are hearing you and we are responding,” said Commissioner Gonzalez. “This City Council is unified in its commitment to taking back our streets. This legislation also sends a clear message: don’t come to Portland just to use hard drugs. Portland needs families, businesses, and cultural organizations to come and thrive here. What we do not need is hard drug use on our streets anymore.”
“I fully support a ban on public consumption of controlled substances. Public drug use and the behavior associated with it are having a devastating impact on Portland, said Commissioner Mapps. “We have seen record overdoses and drug-related deaths in the last few years, and we need a new common-sense approach to solve these urgent problems."
“Public spaces are created to provide all Portlanders, regardless of who you are, with safe and secure places to gather and enjoy each other and our city,” said Commissioner Rubio. “I support the need to restrict public consumption of controlled substances, just like we regulate the public consumption of alcohol and cannabis. This ordinance will allow our police officers to stay focused on the most dangerous drugs currently on our streets.”
“Any Portlander can look around and see we need this commonsense ordinance,” said Commissioner Ryan. “Now the state legislature needs to act – we are in crisis and need to act like it. This must be policy we can enforce."
The Portland City Council will discuss this ordinance at next week’s Council session.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What Does the Resolution hope to accomplish?
By adopting the Resolution, City Council hopes to continue a dialogue that began with the City’s contemplation of an ordinance in response to the public health crisis of public consumption of dangerous controlled substances, furthered and bolstered by the passage of HB 2645. The resolution memorializes the City Council’s commitment to work with community and legislative partners to find a meaningful legislative solution to the current crisis. It is the Council's hope that the resolution will serve to rally everyone currently working to address the crisis of fentanyl that plagues our community.
- Why do we need a new law; what’s wrong with the laws already on the books?
The City Council recognizes a significant gap in our current tools to combat the fentanyl crisis, stemming from insufficient restrictions on its public consumption. Although existing laws deem even minimal possession of fentanyl illegal, the reality is that the solutions in place fall short in tackling the rampant overdoses and sheer volume of drugs currently on our streets.
Existing law permits the police to take those under the influence of such substances to sobering and treatment centers or even jail. However, we face a stark shortage of these treatment facilities. Moreover, our jails, already stretched beyond capacity, lack the appropriate resources and training to safely manage individuals who have consumed a substance as potent as fentanyl. Consequently, with the resources and laws currently in place, we find ourselves without a viable method to curb the public consumption of this lethal drug.
A state statute would prioritize these cases for processing at the jail, mandate court appearances, provide state-funded drug evaluations, and channel individuals into drug treatment or drug courts, with long-term supervision to maximize the possibility of sustained recovery.
- How would a change to state law impact BM 110?
This City's resolution would work within the voter approved limits of BM 110, advocating for the establishment of a state statute that would prohibit the open public consumption of controlled substances. Through careful design, this statute would unlock state resources geared towards drug treatment programs. Such provisions would extend critical support and assistance to individuals who are dedicated to maintaining their sobriety or those actively seeking treatment. This initiative underscores the City's commitment to both regulation and rehabilitation.
- Does the ordinance criminalize drugs in Portland?
The revised city code, scheduled for City Council's consideration next week, will be immediately activated once local authorities are granted the power through the state legislature to outlaw the consumption of controlled substances, including potent drugs like fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and meth, on public lands, streets, sidewalks, and other public rights-of-way.
This amendment dovetails with the existing city code that already restricts open alcohol consumption on streets, sidewalks, and public rights-of-way. Currently, the city code makes it illegal to drink alcohol in these public areas, barring exceptions such as sidewalk cafes or events with the necessary permits. In a parallel fashion, this new ordinance aims to prevent the consumption of controlled substances in the same public domains.
Crucially, this ordinance is also devised as a backup plan, providing an alternative in the event that the legislature doesn't pass a state statute prohibiting the open consumption of controlled substances.
- How does the ordinance impact Measure 110?
The ordinance would not alter Measure 110's decriminalization of the possession of most controlled substances. Instead, should the state not pass a law addressing the matter, this City ordinance is designed to specifically prohibit the consumption of these substances on public property.
- How does this impact House Bill 2645?
The Oregon State Legislature, understanding the complexities of the issue, commendably passed House Bill 2645 this June, increasing penalties for possession of specific amounts of fentanyl. We deeply appreciate this thoughtful and balanced action from the State and the immediate application of the law by law enforcement and the District Attorney. Recognizing the challenges of legislating on such matters, we remain hopeful and supportive of continued collaborative efforts in the upcoming legislative session.
- When will this ordinance go into effect?
At present, ORS 430.402, a state statute, prevents local governments from prohibiting the public consumption of controlled substances. The section of this ordinance addressing controlled substances will only be activated if one of the following occurs: the state amends ORS 430.402, a court allows cities to ban public consumption of controlled substances, or a state regulatory body makes a similar decision.
- I assumed using drugs in public was already illegal?
State and federal regulations oversee the possession, delivery, and manufacture of controlled substances. While federal law outright bans the possession or use of certain substances, state statute decriminalizes possession of small amounts of fentanyl (less than five user amounts) and doesn't address public consumption of fentanyl. Notably, while state law already has provisions against consuming cannabis in public places, there currently is no similar regulation for the consumption of other controlled substances. This Portland ordinance aims to fill that gap by explicitly prohibiting the public consumption of controlled substances, including but not limited to fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and meth. The city has long had rules against drinking alcohol on streets, sidewalks, and other public spaces. Building on that foundation, this ordinance extends the prohibition to include controlled substances, addressing the noticeable trend of their open consumption on public property.
- Should I call 911 to report someone consuming a controlled substance in public spaces?
No. Please do not call 911 to report a person consuming drugs in public unless there is an immediate life or safety concern. The portions of this ordinance related to drugs will not go into effect until state law allows cities to enforce laws prohibiting public consumption of controlled substances. Once the controlled substance portion of this ordinance goes into effect, police will work to utilize current resources to begin enforcement of this ordinance as call volume permits. It will take time and collaboration with our safety partners at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to address how police are able to intervene, and we ask for patience and support as this collaboration continues.
- Does this apply to private property?
No, this is a City ordinance that will apply only to public property, streets, sidewalks, and public rights-of-way.
- Why are you bringing this ordinance to City Council now?
The escalating substance abuse issues in Portland have reached alarming levels, particularly with the visible consumption of controlled substances in public areas. Just this year, the Portland Police Bureau has begun investigations into over 100 suspected overdose deaths. This crisis impacts not just public health but also the safety of Portlanders.
Every member of the Council wants to emphatically convey: we hear you, and we're wholeheartedly dedicated to addressing these pressing concerns. Our commitment is unwavering; we are eager to work hand-in-hand with the legislature and our governmental counterparts to devise comprehensive, state-level solutions that prioritize the health and well-being of our community.
- Does this override Measure 110?
No. On November 3, 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 110, making Oregon the first state to decriminalize the personal possession of controlled substances. For possession of smaller amounts of controlled substances, Measure 110 reduces the penalty from the criminal misdemeanor level to a new, Class E violation (a fine).
While Measure 110 decriminalizes the possession of controlled substances, this City ordinance prohibits the consumption of those controlled substances on public property.
- What if somebody does not comply with this law change?
The City and our regional public safety partners support alternatives to criminal punishment whenever practical when enforcing City Code. As written in the ordinance, those convicted of violating the ordinance may receive a fine up to $500 or up to six months jail time as determined by the courts.
- What about prescription drugs?
This ordinance applies only to prescription drugs when used by someone other than the individual to whom they were prescribed.
- Will someone get a citation if they are experiencing an overdose?
The safety and well-being of our community is the top priority for our public safety partners. If an individual is experiencing an overdose, the top concern would be to connect that person with available resources to stabilize their health. Our public safety partners are trained to handle and support those experiencing overdoses to help reverse the reaction and can administer treatments like Narcan.
- Do you have enough police to enforce these changes?
As we focus on rebuilding the staff of the Portland Police Bureau, our priority remains addressing the most pressing risks our city faces. Concurrently, we'll be informing the at-risk community about changes to the city code. When either the state or court permits the enforcement of such ordinances, the Portland Police will collaborate with the District Attorney’s Office and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to begin implementation.
- Is the City investing in behavioral health treatment?
Yes, the City of Portland collaborates closely with Multnomah County (as well as state leadership) on issues of homelessness, mental/behavioral health, and addiction. Mayor Wheeler’s office is a part of the Behavioral Health Emergency Coordination Network (BHECN) executive committee. This committee is striving to launch and expand resources dedicated to sobering, detox, and mental/behavioral health services. The City of Portland has pledged $1.9 million in ongoing funding to the BHECN project and invests millions of dollars in collaboration with Central City Concern (CCC) for programs that include behavioral health outreach. Most recently, the City Council granted $335,000 to Unity Center’s Psychiatric Hospital to establish 9 new sobering beds. This effort is in partnership with Multnomah County, Care Oregon, and Legacy.
In Oregon, counties primarily handle behavioral health services, but they do so with continuous collaboration from cities. As there's a growing need for local behavioral health services, cities across Oregon have been contributing by establishing new and supplementary services in tandem with county efforts. The City of Portland finances and oversees the following behavioral health programs within city limits in Multnomah County.
CITY OF PORTLAND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH RELATED PROGRAMS
- Portland Street Response | Portland.gov
- Behavioral Health Unit | Portland.gov
- Community Health Assess and Treat (CHAT) | Portland.gov
- Street Services Coordination Center | Portland.gov
- Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites | Portland.gov
- Safe Rest Villages | Portland.gov
This work is interconnected and multi-faceted, as each individual has unique challenges and needs. We are also looking to our regional partners, with ample funding and underspent resources, to get more services online as quickly as possible and will do all we can to support and expand those efforts.