Oregon bills target teen-drugs legal loopholes

Police urge end to little-known enforcement gap

POSTED: 1:06 PM PDT March 11, 2013    UPDATED: 11:07 PM PST March 7, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

Last week, in a NewsChannel 21 First at Ten on Fox exclusive, we brought you the story of the growing heroin epidemic on the High Desert. We spoke to an undercover drug officer who warned of the risk of gateway drugs and drug use by minors.

But Central Oregon law enforcement says when it comes to your kids, their hands are tied. They say kids are becoming addicted to drugs -- and in what may come as a surprise to many, the law doesn’t allow them to intervene. 

Police say that even at the request of parents or school officials, current state laws don’t give police the authority to act if a minor, is under the influence of a controlled substance.

The problem is, most people assume it’s a crime to be high on drugs as a minor -- but, it’s not, at least, not in Oregon.

The fact that it is not a crime is a loophole in the law most people are not aware of.

Bend police Lt. Chris Carney said, "We have a lot of lawmakers that had no clue this wasn't even a crime. I don't think a lot of citizens understand it's not a crime to be under the influence of a controlled substance."

A host of new bills have been introduced in the state Legislature aimed at fixing the problem. House Bill 3237 would make it a crime for a minor to be under the influence of a controlled substance while on a schools premises.

In the last legislative session, a similar bill had strong opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, who called it "well-intentioned concern for the well-being of young people," but saying "the approach of the bill was off-base and dangerous to civil liberties."

However, police disagree. “I don't think we're even coming close to infringing on anybody's rights here,” Carney said.

The ACLU also cited a lack of police expertise in determining if someone is under the influence of a controlled substance.

Police say they have drug recognition experts, and that they train on such matters -- and also have the experience of seeing drug use on the streets.

Sen. Tim Knopp-, R-Bend, acknowledged the work of the fellow Republican he defeated, former senator Chris Telfer, in introducing a bill in the last legislative session that would address the problem.

He said the passage of this new bill is important, in order to keep children in a safe learning environment. Knopp said he believes House Bill 3237 “is a bill worthy of passage.”   

With the growing epidemic of drug use, on the High Desert, police say we owe it to our youth to intervene.

Officials say the passage of the new legislation also would give them the ability to intervene with addiction prevention services for minors.

House Bill 3237 is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.