Lawmakers Again Try Diverting Money From Substance Abuse Treatment to Policing Illegal Cannabis Grows—and Again Reconsider

In 2020, voters overwhelmingly approved using cannabis taxes to fund treatment, in which Oregon ranks last in the nation.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation last week voted to approve a bill that would divert at least $26 million over the next two years from substance abuse treatment, but now a Senate spokesman says lawmakers have changed their minds.

At issue is Senate Bill 1587, on which the committee held a Feb. 14 work session.

In that session, members heard from legislative staff that the effect of an amendment would be to send $50 million in general fund money to cities and counties battling illegal marijuana grows. Staff also told the committee that the amendment would divert $26 million in marijuana tax money to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which would distribute that cash to law enforcement and to nonprofits trying to help people who work at the illegal grows.

Measure 110, which voters passed by a 17-point margin in 2020, decriminalizes many hard drugs for personal consumption. It also earmarks all cannabis tax revenue the state collects above $45 million annually for referral and treatment to substance use disorder services.

Tera Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, says the amendment lawmakers adopted last week violates voters’ wishes and would strip money away from much-needed treatment.

During the pandemic, deaths from drug overdoses have soared.

Related: As Meth and Fentanyl Tighten Their Grips on Oregon, the State Scrambles to Implement Treatment Services

“Oregon is 50th in the nation in access to services and has the second-highest addiction rates in the country,” Hurst says. “The idea that cutting any funding would be an appropriate response right now is out of touch with the realities we are facing on the ground.”

Hurst adds that the amended bill was the third time during the current legislative session that lawmakers have tried to move Measure 110 money to law enforcement.

“Our coalition was given firm assurances that there would be no cuts to Measure 110 funding this session,” Hurst tells WW. “We are deeply disturbed by this breach of trust.”

Related: Legislators Look to Mine Drug Treatment Money for Law Enforcement

After Hurst and other advocates raised a ruckus, state Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) walked back his vote in a Feb. 18 tweet.

“My vote was based on misinformation and I regret it. I and several of my colleagues thought the funding in the amendment was coming from the general fund, not from dollars needed for M110 programs,” Dembrow wrote. “I promise that this problem will be fixed.”

On Monday, Senate Democrats’ spokesman Stephen Watson reiterated that the need for more funding Oregon to fight illegal grows in Southern Oregon is pressing.

“State police have identified at least three international cartels that have moved into Southern Oregon in 2021 to conduct illegal grow operations,” Watson says. “That has resulted in people being killed, serious inhumane conditions, and outright slavery of workers and theft of water from legal water rights holders.”

But he also tells WW the committee didn’t mean to take money away from treatment.

“Our understanding is that the diversion of Measure 110 funds was an unintended impact of the adopted amendment,” Watson says.

He adds that lawmakers will fix the bill in the Joint Ways and Means Committee, where it was referred after passing out of the Judiciary and Measure 110 Committee.

“I have been assured that the Joint Committee on Ways and Means will focus on holding Measure 110 intact,” Watson says.