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Local officials oppose misdemeanor possession law
by STEPHEN FLOYD, Herald and News 8/16/17
Local authorities are concerned about a new Oregon law that makes most drug possession offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies.
Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello said “local law enforcement did not back that change” as it will limit options for mandated treatment and supervision for drug offenders.
House Bill 2355 was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Kate Brown after it passed the state legislature with largely-Democratic support. The bill makes personal-use possession of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and other controlled substances misdemeanors (punishable by no more than a year in jail) rather than felonies (punishable by up to several years in prison).
The bill still allows felony charges for convicted felons found in possession of usable quantities of a controlled substance, offenders arrested a third time for possessing a usable quantity, and those arrested in possession of commercial quantities.
‘... one step closer’
Rep. E. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls) voted against the bill and said he believes it moves Oregon “one step closer to legalization of drugs such as cocaine, heroin and meth.”
“These addictive drugs are a proven danger to society,” he said. “Lowering the penalty for possession is actually legitimizing drug use which makes proliferation of these drugs in our community more likely.”
Supporters of the bill said it would help offenders seek addiction treatment rather than endure prison time. Costello said treatment is a priority for local law enforcement but HB 2355 diminishes the ability of the court to mandate treatment.
For many felony offenders, treatment and prohibitions against intoxicants are enforceable under the threat of substantial prison time should they not comply. HB 2355 eliminates this tactic for most possession cases.
“While a misdemeanor conviction limits our impact, we still can require probationary supervision and treatment that may change life-destructive behaviors,” said Costello.
She said the DA’s office will continue pursuing felony charges against those charged with felony possession prior to HB 2355 becoming law.
Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber said his deputies are prepared to enforce the new law. He said Costello’s office has composed a list of guidelines for how to charge possession offenders appropriately.
Kaber was also concerned about another provision in HB 2355 requiring officers to record the gender and race of those subjected to pedestrian and traffic stops. Under the bill, agencies are required to report this information to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to track potential instances of police profiling.
Kaber said he sees this policy becoming an unfunded mandate as the state determines exactly how the information will be recorded and reported. He also said he does not believe the law will reveal a pattern of profiling as Oregon State Police has been using such a policy for several years and has found no such pattern.
“Data shows that state police don’t profile,” said Kaber, who retired from OSP in 2013 after a 26-year career.
Kaber said, if his patrol deputies report such information the same way OSP does, they will relay the info to dispatchers after completing the stop.
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Page Updated: Friday August 18, 2017 02:56 AM Pacific
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