With the issues of homelessness and drug addiction growing in Southern Oregon and across the nation, a number of Josephine County residents have voiced their desire to see Measure 110 repealed at Board of County Commissioner meetings.
Measure 110 was narrowly approved by Oregon voters in 2020. It decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine with the objective of preserving police resources and treating drug addiction as a disease rather than a crime, but critics blame the measure for an increase in drug overdoses and criminal activity.
“Our moral fiber just seems to have gone somewhere other than what I consider Southern Oregon to be,” Commissioner Dan DeYoung opined at the Aug. 29 weekly business session. “I think a lot of homeless people gravitated to Oregon because of the lack of enforcement on hard drugs.”
DeYoung expressed his agreement with several citizens who spoke during requests and comments from citizens, such as 24-year resident Colleen Kirkland, who said, “All the abuse of our parks by our drug-abusing friends has seemed to have increased tremendously since we legalized all the drugs… The logical thing is to rescind the law that legalized drugs in the first place.”
Former commissioner candidate Mark Jones added, “We’re not going to solve homeless (sic) until we get rid of 110,” while Williams Fire Rescue Chief Rick Vetter echoed this sentiment, saying, “We do have a problem.”
The commissioners assured their constituents that they are taking actions to counter the rise of illegal drug use. DeYoung explained Commissioner John West has been working with legal counsel to draft an ordinance that would essentially make JoCo a “dry county” where illegal drugs are concerned, with stricter enforcement than state law dictates.
The legality of such an ordinance is not clear, but passing an ordinance contradicting state law would be in keeping with the county’s history, as in the past few years alone ordinances regarding cannabis, firearms and even smart electric meters have been approved, inevitably leading to lawsuits.
“I encourage Commissioner West to keep forward on his quest,” DeYoung remarked. “You know, maybe we need to be a dry county for drugs… I was in an alcohol-free county in Texas one time; it just boggled my mind. In the 21st century? And there’s a dry county. But by golly, they stuck with it.”
When it was West’s turn to speak, he confirmed his endeavor to construct an anti-drug ordinance.
“We are working on the drug ordinance and so I’m hoping that the commissioners will sign on to send a letter to the state,” said West. “My problem is, I think we have to go further than that. I don’t trust Salem to do the right thing – to repeal 110. So I think that we need to go further for our county and then maybe that will be the model that other counties take on.”
West explained his belief that while there would still be a crime and homelessness problem without Measure 110, many criminals would not be addicted to drugs and living a derelict lifestyle if hard drugs had not been decriminalized.
Board Chair Herman Baertschiger did not mince words: “110 was an absolutely horrible petition,” one he laid squarely at the feet of the “progressive left.”
“I can’t remember one single Democrat in the Senate rallying against this petition. Not one single one,” Baertschiger observed.
The board chair said that since Democrats who supported Measure 110 have a large majority in both state chambers of Congress and will likely not consider repealing the controversial measure, it will be up to a grassroots effort from citizens to petition in order to repeal 110.
The commissioners again defended their decision not to declare an emergency over homelessness in order to secure state funding.
“We’ve been down this road on emergencies,” said DeYoung. “We had three emergencies going at once during COVID. We had drought, COVID and wildfire. When we had the drought everything went back to the Marine Board and the Water Resources Department and the water master. We gave up all authority in Josephine County. We couldn’t tell you not to pump out or boil or not. Then COVID, everything went to the Oregon Health Authority. Anything we wanted to say as far as the governing body of Josephine County didn’t count anymore. And wildfire all goes to ODF and the fire thing. So we give up something every time. And you want us to govern and you want us to do the very best for Josephine County. We can’t do that by giving things up just because it’s really snap judgment and big headlines in the Courier.”
West agreed: “I truly think there’s a difference between an emergency and a problem. We have all kinds of problems in the city and the county, but just because it’s a problem doesn’t make it an emergency. And so many times I think we get caught into thinking we need to react more than we maybe need to react to the problem, but we don’t need to go overboard.”
Baertschiger slammed embattled Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol, who faces a recall vote next week, for blaming the commissioners for the city of Grants Pass not getting any state funds to combat homelessness as a result of no emergency being declared.
The board chair said it was false, adding, “The mayor wants to come and blame us. Now, I don’t blame the mayor for the homeless problem in Grants Pass. But she’s the top of the food chain in the city of Grants Pass. She’s the top of the pecking order and the only thing she does is blame us at the county. So I’m not too happy with that. We have a problem. We need to work together to solve it, but pointing fingers at each other isn’t going to solve it.”