New Oregon law changes drug possession prosecution

Possession of some amounts reduced to misdemeanors

New law changes drug possession...

BEND, Ore. - A new Oregon law reclassifies possession of small amounts of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine to misdemeanors from felonies.

Among its supporters are the police and sheriffs' associations, which said felony convictions include unintended consequences, including barriers to housing and employment.

Lawyers, including the Deschutes County district attorney, are also in favor of the law.

"It's a great recognition of the fact that we don't need to further criminalize and turn people into felons over substance abuse, mental health addiction -- problems like that," public defender Aaron Jeffers said Wednesday.

"I think the hope is that this will open up the opportunity to provide a lot of resources, in terms of treatment instead of building more prisons," public defender Karla Nash said.

But the law does not extend to those who've been convicted or are currently on trial for drug charges. Jeffers has been working to get his clients those rights.

"We're working to try to make that happen in other ways," he said. "We're trying to work with district attorneys and with judges to, where we can, have them recognize the intent of the law and still reduce some offenses to misdemeanors. But it would've been great if it'd been that way from the beginning."

He's already retroactively reduced some offenses to misdemeanors.

The new law takes effect immediately. 

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