To the editor: Drug decriminalization bills are not good for Vermonters

The State of Vermont legislature has introduced numerous bills to decriminalize ALL drugs. The legislation being introduced is based upon the Oregon law that has decriminalized all drugs.

In a recent NPR report, the decriminalization in Oregon has been labeled a complete failure, even by those who initially supported the bill.  This law has not had the desired effect which is to help addicts get help through a system of health-based initiatives. The reality is that since the enactment of the decriminalization of drugs laws, Oregon is now last in drug treatment with the second-highest addiction rate in the country. The state of Vermont wants to follow suit.

There are five bills in the State House that seek these changes. Under the proposed legislation all “personal supply” of drugs would be decriminalized where the offender would receive a $50 ticket that could be dismissed if they seek drug screening. They want to decriminalize the possession and SALE of a personal supply of all regulated drugs. Another bill would limit drug-related criminal and civil liability for those associated with safe injection sites. I encourage everyone to read these bills and ask themselves if this is something you want to see in your hometown? For ease, I have listed the bills below.

H. 309 — An act relating to decriminalizing certain chemical compounds found in plants and fungi that are commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious or entheogenic purposes

H. 419 An act relating to limiting drug-related criminal liability and civil forfeiture actions against persons associated with an approved safer drug consumption program (safe injection sites)

H.422 An act relating to decriminalizing possession and dispensing of a personal use supply of regulated drugs

H.505 An act relating to reclassification of penalties for unlawfully possessing, dispensing, and selling a regulated drug

H.644 An act relating to decriminalization of a personal use supply of a regulated drug

I was able to reach out to police in Oregon and asked them what they are seeing, below are some of the answers I received:

“I work for a city of about 20k south of the Portland Metro area. I hear from a lot of arrestees that they and their friends don’t care much anymore about using in public because we can’t arrest them anymore. We now cite them for a violation rather than a criminal offense if it’s below a certain amount. The citation is 100 bucks. They can get it dismissed if they call a phone number to do an assessment, but most people do nothing. It’s a free for all and there’s no longer accountability or court drug treatment like there was before. I also feel it is fueling the retail theft pandemic.”

“I can’t speak for the entire state but where I work, we’ve seen more DRE Evals and OD’s have gone up. Mostly heroin and fentanyl. We also see a lot more people carrying and will even tell you they only have a gram of whatever as they know what they can have and it not being a crime. As AJ pointed out, the fine is $100. However, we’re finding most of our guys don’t even waste their time as there are really no consequences for not paying the fine.”

“It’s a disaster. Our crime lab and our state DRE Coordinator Tim Plummer can give you some drug data. A report just came out that put us last in drug treatment and second highest in addiction nationwide. The only promise that was kept was that people wouldn’t get arrested for user amounts of drugs.”

Almost nobody is taking advantage of the treatment hotline because there is no penalty for not paying the $100 ticket or failing to appear. At last check in September, there were only 108 calls to the hotline. 29 of those had received a citation and followed through with a screening. 24 had not been cited but were calling for services. 4 called for their verification for court. The rest were hang-ups or LE/professionals looking for program info.”

“It’s a train wreck. Plain and simple. I’m in a town of 60k and we don’t even bother citing for it because it’s a joke and waste of time to everyone. Criminals know how much they can have in their pocket and will skate the line. As others have said, huge increase in fentanyl related calls lately. Pills and powder form.”

Is this the way we want Vermont to go? You decide, then tell your representatives and senators how you feel. These bills are too dangerous and a direct threat to the Vermont way of life. We have lost too many people to overdoses but this proposed resolution will do much more harm than good.
Richard King
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  1. Christopher Robin Wallace says:

    The over-arching problem is our for-profit healthcare system that largely marginalizes and excludes those battling addiction. We deserve a healthcare system that prioritizes people over profits.

  2. Tim Roper says:

    I’m going to make the assumption that the California and Oregon legislation didn’t include the reallocation of much, if any money from incarceration programs into treatment and prevention programs.

    Another aspect of these comparisons that seems to always be overlooked is the state of our economy as America has shifted further and further into a country of haves and have nots. Finding a path to move from poverty into the ever shrinking middle class becomes harder each year. When a person lives in poverty and sees no viable path to a place financial well being, escape through drug use and crime can look like the only path to escaping the pain of poverty.

    If we care about one another, let’s put more attention and more of our budget dollars into prevention through education at early ages and providing treatment for our addicted instead of spending the money on incarceration. It’s a political choice that’s not all that complicated.

  3. Lee Herrington says:

    I served in California law enforcement for over 30 years including service as a patrol officer, narcotics detective, detective sergeant, and ultimately retiring as a supervisor of a homeless services team. I dealt with methamphetamine and opiate addicts throughout my career and I was watched firsthand as methamphetamine grew from being a biker drug to being the scourge of communities all over the west. Whenever I met an addict who cleaned up I would always inquire as to what helped them get clean. Universally they all talked about being tired of the consequences of their addiction. Consequences included family problems, employment issues, losing property, and most notably jail. Later in my career the wise voters of California passed Proposition 47: The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The title was misleading. This bill reduced crime penalties ostensibly to save taxpayer money and open jails for serious offenders. I would encourage anybody that is for reduced penalties or decriminalization to look at the effects of Prop 47 on the size of, and condition of, California’s addict population. Before Prop 47 a career addict would go to jail periodically for minor crimes and due to their criminal history it wasn’t unusual to see 45 day jail stints for drug motivated theft crimes and possession cases. While incarcerated the addicts would clean up, reconnect with loved ones and other support structures. Upon release some would go right back to using but for others there would be periods of sobriety, which for some became permanent. Now under Prop 47 addicts steal with near impunity because getting caught just means a citation which they fail to appear on. When arrested on the warrant they appear in front of a judge and typically plead to time served for the few days spent in lockup for the warrant. The short jail stint rarely removes the addict from their drug use and crimes to create periods of sobriety. Until we come up with some type of compelled treatment for criminally inclined addicts reducing penalties will only increase the impact addicts have on our law abiding population. I would propose we put compelled drug treatment facilities in every jail system reserved for drug addicted low level offenders. Treat them like human beings who need help but present a threat to our community.

  4. Cathy Hasbrouck says:

    Simply put, I couldn’t agree more with Tim. Housing addicts in prison has not been successful. Why continue to spend money on something that clearly isn’t working? This is the land of Yankee ingenuity. Let’s put on our thinking caps and try something else.

  5. Tim Roper says:

    So, if an illness is considered socially unacceptable, those suffering with it should be locked up? That doesn’t make sense to me and it clearly isn’t working in reducing the numbers of the addicted.

    Just as with other important initiatives, one or two states have to take initial actions to lead the rest of the country toward a shift in thinking outdated laws. This has been true with drunk driving laws, with decriminalizing cannabis possession and with same sex marriage, why not do the same with addiction? Putting addicts in prison helps the prison industry and law enforcement career paths, not the addicts who need the help. If we care about one another, let’s find a better way to help our addicted.