Wheeler’s Call to Reconsider Measure 110 Would Cost Multnomah County Millions, Advocate Says

“Politicians are using Measure 110 as scapegoat and punching bag.”

HOLD ON A SECOND: Statue in Pioneer Courthouse Square. (Brian Brose)

Repealing Measure 110, an option Mayor Ted Wheeler suggested at a town hall on Saturday, would cost Multnomah County $58 million in drug treatment funds in the two years ending in December, says Tera Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, an organization that advocates for implementation of the measure.

Taken together, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties would lose $91 million, Hurst says.

Like many critics, Wheeler is scapegoating Measure 110 for Portland’s problems, Hurst alleges. The measure made Oregon the first state to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of some hard drugs. It uses cannabis tax revenue and savings from criminal enforcement to fund new addiction and recovery programs.

Detractors say the measure has made Oregon a haven for people who want to take drugs without the legal risks. Hurst says they’re wrong because other cities without 110-style laws are experiencing drug epidemics, too.

“If criminalization worked, lots of cities around the country wouldn’t be grappling with the same thing Portland is,” Hurst says. “Politicians are using Measure 110 as scapegoat and punching bag.”

Wheeler criticized Measure 110 at a town hall meeting in Montavilla on Saturday. He was introduced by Angela Todd, an interior designer who runs the controversial Instagram site PDX Real, where she catalogs the city’s woes, including tent fires, graffiti and people struggling with addiction and mental illness.

On Twitter, PDX Real has been a ruthless and personal critic of Hurst, who is in long-term recovery from alcoholism and addiction, accusing her of lying about Measure 110′s contents.

“Another person runs our Twitter,” Todd said in her own defense in an email. “I only run Instagram and Facebook feeds.”

Wheeler made some of his harshest comments yet about Measure 110 at the Montavilla meeting.

“What was sold to the voting public was, ‘Yes, we will decriminalize some personal amounts of drugs,’” Wheeler said at the meeting. “But the main event was supposed to be the establishment of substance use disorder treatment statewide, including a lot of it right here in the metro area. And here we are two years later, and we’ve seen the decriminalization of hard drugs, but we’re not seeing the treatment.”

“I’m not going to lie to you. I’m pissed about that,” Wheeler continued. “It needs to happen and it needs to happen urgently. And if it doesn’t happen, then we need to rethink the basic tenets of that ballot measure. If it’s not working, then let’s just admit it, and let’s move on to something that does.”

Funds from Measure 110 were delayed by bureaucratic snafus. As WW has written, decriminalization preceded the disbursal of treatment dollars by more than two years. That gap gave drug users carte blanche to consume heroin or methamphetamine but offered them no new resources for treatment.

Wheeler was playing to a sympathetic crowd at the event, Hurst says.

“He’s not listening to the people who are working on the front lines,” she says. “He’s placating the loudest voices, and we can’t be the loudest voices because we’re busy saving lives.”

Hurst pointed to data from the Oregon Health Authority showing that Measure 110-funded resource providers served more than 60,000 people from July 1, 2021—when the first components of the program started—to September 2022. So far, 233 organizations have received $265 million in Measure 110 funds, Hurst says.

Among them, Hurst says, are the Miracles Club, where Measure 110 is funding 18 new transitional housing beds, including the first and only transitional house for Black women in recovery and an LGBTW+ recovery house. Bridges to Change got $13 million for behavioral health, peer support, mentoring and housing. They plan to use the money to fund 202 new beds—109 of them in Multnomah County—and to hire 67 new employees.

“These are the people we’re counting on to fix this crisis,” Hurst says. “We should be throwing them parades.”

A spokesman for Wheeler said the mayor stood by his comments.

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