An Interview About Oregon’s Measure 110, a brief victory for Drug Decriminalization


Morgan Godvin is an internationally recognized expert on the topic of drugs and justice. She was a leading activist behind Oregon’s drug decriminalization law – Measure 110 – that passed in 2021, as a part of the momentum built by BLM. Measure 110 is now effectively repealed through Oregon’s recent re-criminalization laws passed by the legislature. Still, Measure 110 represents a significant victory, albeit a brief one, in the fight against the war on drugs. I sought out Morgan to discuss the measure, its connection with BLM and the recent repeal.

Q:Let’s begin with a brief background on measure 110.

A: Measure 110 is a ballot measure that passed in the state of Oregon. It does two very different things. It took our drug penalties down a rung – penalties that had previously been felonies became misdemeanors, and misdemeanors were moved down to a new class called a Class E violation, which is no longer a criminal offense, it is a civil offense. Separate from that, it also took our cannabis tax revenue, over a certain threshold and diverted it into a fund for drug treatment, harm reduction, peer services, supported employment and housing. It effectively decriminalized low level possession. For heroin and fentanyl, it’s one gram or less; for meth and cocaine, it’s two grams or less, anything above that is still a misdemeanor. If they are found to be in possession, they get this $100 fine. To waive the fine, all you have to do is get an assessment, at which point you will be offered various Voluntary Services connected to services out of that fund. For the first biennium, it was $300 million. That’s how much was injected into our substance use services fund here in the state of Oregon. And we’re a fairly small state, we only have 4 million people. So it was the largest ever single infusion of money into our drug treatment services.

Q: How is the difference between a violation, a misdemeanor and a felony significant from the point of view of the impact it has on people?

A: It is quite significant because of all of the collateral consequences that are reserved for felony convictions. So people with felony convictions lose their right to vote, depending on what state they’re in, and suffer quite literally 1000s of other collateral consequences, including they’re going to lose their right to own firearms, it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to find housing because in the United States, all rental housing performs background checks. Felonies also disqualify people from various government benefits, sometimes depending on what state they’re in, and sometimes not. So my drug felony disqualified me from tax credits for university education. So it is pretty substantial. The difference when you’re in jail, it feels the same whether you’re there for a misdemeanor or a felony, but after the fact the lifelong consequences are much more severe for felony level offenses.

Q: I wanted to talk about the link between measure 110 and the BLM Movement, specifically the defund movement. The idea behind defund was that police funding is excessive, we want to take some of that, and channel it towards social causes. In essence, measure 110 was doing the same thing. A large part of why police budgets are extremely high is because of the war on drugs. So by decriminalizing drug possession, you’re essentially undermining the basis of that funding. Do you see the same connection?

A: Measure 110 shrunk the footprint of the criminal justice system, by investing in upstream upfront services, which are quite literally crime prevention, instead of waiting for a crime to occur and punishing it. In addition to the cannabis tax revenue written into the measure 110 was that any cost savings to the criminal justice system were to be reinvested back into the fund for services. To date, that’s been $39 million. This was above what anyone projected it to be. That money would have otherwise gone to policing or incarceration, so law enforcement do sometimes complain that they had a budget reduction. In this sense, there are some ideological alignments with defund. But it didn’t affect baseline police budgets, which have remained consistent and are very high, like elsewhere.

Q: It’s been like three years since Measure 110 passed and it is now effectively repealed. How would you describe the state of affairs on the ground today that contributed to the repeal?

A: Things are incredibly challenging because we did not have fentanyl in our market until COVID hit. We were one of the last regions in the nation that still had black tar heroin. But the COVID lockdowns and specifically the border shut down with Mexico really accelerated our transition to fentanyl. While most markets did a pretty slow transition first, fentanyl was an adulterant in the heroin for several years, and then it started becoming a drug of choice. We went from a 100% Heroin market to a 95% fentanyl market in less than 12 months. It’s absolutely unprecedented. We are still dealing with the devastating effects of transitioning to a fentanyl market in 2021. Measure 110 increased our access to treatment and pretty substantially increased our access to harm reduction. Without that funding, it would be even worse. But we are not doing well. What we know is arresting people does not help. In fact, arrest and incarceration causes harm specifically, it’s a huge risk factor for overdose. So if we did literally nothing, it would be better than arresting people for drug possession. Measure 110 can’t fix everything. For instance, we simultaneously have a horrific housing crisis. But it was easy to scapegoat Measure 110.

Q: There’s been ideological pushback on measure 110 resulting in the repeal. Can you comment on that?

A: Well, people want to be able to arrest drug users. I mean, anybody who bought weed before 2016 understands that purchasing illegal drugs, morally is not equivalent to other things that we have deemed are crimes, it is not the same as stealing. But people are very upset that we cannot arrest drug users. They want a license to be able to arrest drug users. That is what criminalization is essentially, no one thinks that drug possession is actually a crime. But it’s much easier to arrest people instead of investigating real crimes. We have this impulse towards punitive response in the United States, that incarceration is the answer to all of our social ills.

People are frustrated with the situation on the street, and there is a lot to be frustrated about. We have rampant homelessness, fentanyl is killing us. But people want to arrest drug users, because they think that’ll fix it. Even though when you look at the other 49 states in this country, it’s quite obvious that doesn’t fix it. The entire nation is in the worst overdose crisis in human history. I think a lot of it just has to do with power and control. People who use drugs are some of the most marginalized, most stigmatized among us. And the response to people who are stigmatized is often to consider them a lesser class or less than human and call them a criminal and put them in handcuffs, strip them naked, tell them to spread their cheeks and cough, to other them, metaphorically and literally by setting them apart from society as if they are contagious. But that will not alleviate any of our problems, it will not reduce our overdose rate, it will not suddenly house the 10s of 1000s of people who are unhoused. But it will satisfy that base urge for vengeance that is very present in the American ethos.

Q: Any final words?

A: Addiction is defined as continued use despite negative consequences; increasing the negative consequences that people face will never decrease their addiction. And I’m speaking from personal experience, I was given multiple felonies for drug possession. Before my felonies, I was a student, I was an employee. Yes, I was struggling with heroin addiction. But it wasn’t until my contact with the criminal justice system and going to jail repeatedly that I was fired from my job, withdrew from all my classes, lost all of my legal streams of income, and fell deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld as my addiction spiraled. It was such a moment of pride for me to be able to get out of prison and be involved with measure 110, knowing that all of my friends who died of a heroin overdose were incarcerated repeatedly and it didn’t save them. I was incarcerated repeatedly, it did not save me. And then to be involved in this policy change that I thought was going to be revolutionary. That meant no other Oregonian would ever have to face what I face and what my friends faced, hoping that they could get treatment without having to go to prison, or without having to get traumatized first. People are able to get the treatment they need, the moment they need it, the moment they want it, making treatment as easy to get as drugs. It was one of the highlights of my life. I felt immense pride being involved in this measure, I continue to feel immense pride. It quite literally breaks my heart to see people wanting to go back to a system where people are incarcerated and are traumatized. When we know that addiction is so often a trauma response, layering on additional types of trauma, the collateral consequences that I mentioned earlier, making it even harder for people to access higher education, making it even harder for people to find stable and secure housing. People struggling with addiction need more help, yet under a scheme of criminalization, they get more barriers instead. It’s not that I don’t see the problem. The problem is very obvious. We are all experiencing it. But we have to agree that arrest is never a solution.


Raghav Kaushik is an activist based in Seattle. He was involved in the historic victory that banned caste discrimination in the city of Seattle. He has also been involved in various other causes like the fight against intellectual property protections applied to covid vaccines, Tax Amazon, and the fight against the Modi regime in India.

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