Mixed reaction to easing Oregon drug laws

Klamath Falls, Ore. – It’s no longer a felony in Oregon to possess small quantities of some street drugs, as Governor Brown has signed House Bill 2355.

Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello isn’t in favor of making possession of drugs like heroin, meth, cocaine, and some other drugs a misdemeanor.  “Our law enforcement and our office has never been behind it.”

But, defense attorney Phil Studenberg says easing penalties is a ‘significant step forward’. “Drug addiction should be treated as a medical problem, as a public health problem, and not as a criminal law problem.”

Costello cautions that those caught with illegal drugs will still be arrested.

“The possession of a controlled substance misdemeanors will be on formal probation.” Costello said. “They will be required to do treatment, they will be supervised by a probation officer.”

Studenberg agrees that treatment is a priority.  “The right approach is education, treatment, and trying to get to the root of the addiction problem.”

Costello says she’s concerned about the possible impact on drug trafficking, and prosecution. “Oftentimes a possession of a controlled substance as a felony is a tool that can be used to get individuals to tell us where their sources are, they work with the drug team.”

Studenberg notes the law could have an impact on getting those in drug court to complete treatment. “It’s going to be difficult – because you don’t have the ‘hammer’.  The drug court relies on having that felony hammer.”

Drug possession will remain a felony in certain circumstances.

The situations include offenders with previous felony convictions, people getting a third arrest for possession, and those caught with large quantities.

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