Oregon’s Ballot Measure 110: Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act
In November 2020, nearly 60% of Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 110 (BM 110), also known as the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. Enacted in February 2021, Ballot Measure 110 decriminalized non-commercial drug possession and significantly increased funding for substance use disorder treatment and harm reduction services through newly established Behavioral Health Resource Networks. Although drug decriminalization was enacted immediately, most of the funding for treatment and harm reduction services was not awarded until August 2022—19 months after Ballot Measure 110 took effect.
What the Passage of Ballot Measure 110 means for Oregon
With Ballot Measure 110’s passage, Oregon is the first U.S. state to decriminalize non-commercial possession of drugs that are illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Several other states are considering similar legislation and are looking at Oregon’s BM 110 experience to shape how they proceed.
RTI International’s Evidence-Based Study on the Impacts of BM 110
RTI recently received a 4-year grant from the philanthropic foundation Arnold Ventures to conduct an independent outcome evaluation of BM 110. Given delays in the funding of treatment and harm reduction services, we first prioritized evaluating the impacts of drug decriminalization.
Criminal Legal System Representatives’ Perceptions of Ballot Measure 110
To understand perceived impacts of drug decriminalization from BM 110, our team visited four geographically distinct Oregon counties in the summer of 2022: two urban counties with populations of more than 250,000 and two rural counties with populations of 90,000 or less. We conducted 34 hour-long interviews with representatives from law enforcement (officers and leadership), emergency medical services/fire, district attorney offices, community corrections, juvenile justice, and the treatment and harm reduction communities. We asked participants about their perceptions of how BM 110 has impacted law enforcement in their communities and agencies.
Given the lack of available data, the 34 study participants we interviewed were curious about Oregon’s crime rates before and after BM 110 and how those rates compare with rates in other states or cities. Criminal legal system representatives perceived that crimes in general—and property-related crimes and disorderly offenses, in particular—had increased following BM 110’s implementation. They also perceived that public opinion in Oregon has soured on BM 110 because Oregonians feel like they are witnessing and being victimized more by crimes as a result of the ballot measure.
Notably, many of the 14 non-criminal legal system representatives we interviewed expressed that any alleged increases in crime could simply mirror what other communities and cities throughout the country are experiencing. In essence, they noted that COVID-19, civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd, increases in inflation and poverty, decreases in affordable housing, and the rapidly changing drug market introducing fentanyl were all equally plausible explanations for potential increases in crime.
Finding Answers in Calls for Service Data
Given the urgency of the data request from our qualitative study participants, our team turned to publicly available, computer-aided dispatch data, which are more commonly referred to as 911 calls, or calls for service (CFS) data. Our team is well-versed in helping law enforcement leadership use CFS data to inform resource allocation. For the purposes of the BM 110 evaluation, CFS data provide a unique view into a community’s concerns and needs by showing how much police are being called by the public to respond to particular types of incidents.
For this initial analysis, Portland was selected as the chief Oregon site because it is the state’s largest city and its CFS data are publicly available. We chose comparison cities in neighboring states that have not enacted BM 110 and for which data were available. Based on 2021 Census statistics, two of the selected cities are reasonable comparisons to Portland (population: 652,503) in terms of size and region: Seattle, Washington (population: 737,015) and Sacramento, California (population: 524,943). Sacramento and Seattle are more racially diverse than Portland. Boise is the largest city in neighboring Idaho (population: 235,684), which is in the same region but is smaller than the other three cities, and with racial demographics that are more similar to Portland. Age and sex demographics are similar across all four cities. Notably, the universe of Portland CFS data is dispatch only, meaning that only calls initiated by residents are included. Thus, we used the same criteria for data from the three comparison cities. A total of 4,162,620 calls for service were collected and analyzed across the four cities between January 2018 and July 2022.