Portland City Council Forges Ahead on Efforts to Ban Public Fentanyl Consumption

This time, they’re asking state lawmakers for help.

FOILED: Smoking a fentanyl "blue" off foil in downtown Portland. (Blake Benard)

All five members of Portland’s City Council are resurrecting a proposal to ban public fentanyl use after the mayor withdrew his prior effort, acknowledging that it would face legal scrutiny.

This time, the council plans to make the ban contingent on changes in state law—and it’s directing the city’s lobbyists to help make that happen.

“Addressing the public health crisis unfolding on our streets requires all of us working together,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a joint statement sent out this morning.

The other four members of the council signed on. “This ordinance will allow our police officers to stay focused on the most dangerous drugs currently on our streets,” City Commissioner Carmen Rubio added.

The revived effort comes after a wave of overdoses and widespread media scrutiny of open-air drug sales on the downtown transit mall. WW considered the toll of that nightly opioid market in a cover story this summer.

The mayor originally planned to bring a consumption ban to the City Council in June, but he backpedaled shortly thereafter, saying, “It would have undoubtedly been challenged because of a state statute potentially limiting the authority of local governments to create laws regarding the public use of drugs.”

At the time, Wheeler said a new bill criminalizing possession of small amounts of fentanyl “addresses our primary concerns about the public health crisis unfolding on our streets” and that passage of the ordinance “is no longer necessary.”

Now, city leaders appear to have changed their minds. “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,” the statement reads.

So, they’ve resurrected the ordinance with a trigger: It goes into effect if lawmakers change the law or a court overrides that law.

The details remain the same. Violators will still face fines of up to $500 or up to six months in jail.

It’s being introduced in tandem with a second ordinance that directs the city’s lobbying arm, the Office of Government Relations, to convince lawmakers to either amend ORS 430.402 or pass a statewide ban.

The pair of ordinances will be considered at next Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

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