Oregon's potential to be the first state in the nation to decriminalize methamphetamine and heroin with Ballot Measure 110 is controversial enough, but a blow-up among supporters of the measure now adds another layer of complexity.
Campaign resources are not the issue. The New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, the major donor to the $2 million initiative petition to place the measure on the November ballot, was the force behind Oregon's landmark 2014 measure legalizing recreational cannabis.
Measure 110 would decriminalize possession of illegal substances, but not the manufacture of them. And it would fund drug treatment by redirecting cannabis taxes and savings from a less-burdened criminal justice system.
But as proponents ready themselves to sell the measure to voters, emails obtained by WW show that communities of color, which are supposed to benefit from the measure, feel left out of the campaign.
Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland, "paused" the league's endorsement of the measure Aug. 4 over concerns raised by communities of color.
What she said in an Aug. 4 email obtained by WW:
"I was surprised that DPA will not consider any community investments in support of Oregon's efforts to end our addiction crisis in lieu of large payments to the good ol' boys and girls of Oregon political consultants. My team, and our state, is on the front lines of the movement for Black lives. So its puzzling that a national social justice organization that claims to want to work with us would be opposed to actual policy development through investing in and centering communities of color. (To be clear, this is not a pitch for the Urban League. We are busy with other priorities, as you may have seen on the national news, courtesy of local and federal police.)" —Harmon Johnson to the Drug Policy Alliance
Why it matters: Statistics show that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by addiction and criminal penalties for drug possession.
What the campaign says: It pointed out that the Urban League of Portland does not oppose the measure and has not ruled out endorsing it in the future. A subsequent email obtained by WW said conversations are ongoing and that Harmon Johnson said she did not intend for her Aug. 4 email to the DPA to reach the public.
The campaign also pointed to a list of current endorsements by 33 BIPOC groups. Kayse Jama of Unite Oregon, a social justice nonprofit that often works collaboratively with the Urban League, says his group continues to work for passage of Measure 110.
Jama says the measure "will help eliminate the disparities that communities we organize face in drug possession charges and convictions, and it will put the resources we currently waste on those arrests and prosecutions into funding for meaningful, accessible, culturally competent treatment options for individuals who are seeking addiction recovery and treatment."
Harmon Johnson says she shares that goal. "Every day, we lose seven Oregonians to alcohol and drug addictions," she said. "I hope that we finally do what necessary to give our friends and neighbors the support they need to live long, healthy lives."