BEND, Ore. - Depending on who you ask, the nation's so-called war on drugs has not worked very well. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and many prisoners are behind bars for drug use and possession.
The Oregon Legislature wants to change tactics. It just passed two bills that reclassify the severity of possession of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
So instead of being tried for a felony, possessors of those drugs would be charges with a misdemeanor -- but only if they meet a specific set of criteria. To be eligible, for example, the person cannot have been convicted of a felony, sex crime or any more than two drug crimes.
Also, the Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program aims to keep families together, under the premise that children suffer more when their parents go to jail than when they go to rehabilitation. This program requires the defendant have custody of a minor or be pregnant.
The idea is to start giving drug addicts medical help instead of jail time.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel sad Monday he supports the effort. He said he and his team have always cared about getting people the help they need, and now it'll be easier to give it to them.
"We've done that after obtaining a felony conviction, because that's what the law said," Hummel said. "Now, we'll be doing it after proceeding under a misdemeanor level. The focus will be on treatment, instead of jail. That's what the Legislature wants to do. I support the Legislature in it, and we'll be a good partner with them."
The Oregon House minority leader understands the premise, but does not agree with the bill, which he voted against.
"In the long run, clearly, treatment and addiction relief have to be involved with how someone repairs their relationship to themselves, their communities, their families," Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said Monday. "But to simply go on a decriminalization movement without any sort of hesitation, I think is sort of misguided."
He said his main reservation about the bill has to do with lowering property crimes related to drug use to misdemeanors. McLane said identity theft is common among drug-addicted women.
"Identity theft is getting worse and worse," he said. "This isn't the time to punish people less. In fact, I think we need to be stiffer on punishment."
Another approved bill focuses on traffic and pedestrian stops, and requires thorough reporting by the officer of each stop. The goal is to curb racial profiling, especially when it comes to drug possession.
What do you think should be the outcome of drug crimes: Treatment or prison time? It's the topic of our new KTVZ.COM Poll, which you can find halfway down the right side of our home page.