United States: Don’t blame drug decriminalisation for what the housing crisis has caused

Levi Meir Clancy - Unsplash


United States: Don’t blame drug decriminalisation for what the housing crisis has caused

16 August 2023
Morgan Godvin

Corporate media outlets like The New York Times are misleading the public on drug decriminalization in Oregon.

National media outlets have trained their sights on Portland, Oregon, releasing hit piece after piece. The New York Times published no fewer than three articles about the state’s drug decriminalization in a single week. “Oregon’s experiment to curb overdoses by decriminalizing small amounts of illicit drugs is in its third year, and life has changed for most everyone in the city of Portland,” reads the subheadline of one. The mischaracterizations begin before the article does, starting out with the assertion the primary goal was to curb overdoses, reaching a fever pitch by the final clause, “and life has changed for most everyone…”

Jan Hoffman’s New York Times piece profiles Jennifer Myrle, a worker at a downtown coffee shop who recently saw a woman performing oral sex on a man in broad daylight on the street. What that has to do with drug decriminalization, no one knows. (Opioids cause impotence, if anyone is wondering.) Myrle says her downtown area can feel like “dealer central,” but that “there’s no point in calling the cops.” Though The New York Times is spuriously implying drug peddlers have free reign in the city, unpacking why Myrle sees no point in calling the police is worthy of a few sentences.

The New York Times would have you believe Measure 110 — which moved misdemeanor drug possession down to a Class E violation, similar to a traffic ticket — has given fentanyl dealers free reign, though a sale of even $5 of fentanyl remains a Class A felony. But Myrle is probably right — there’s likely no point in calling the cops. They won’t come, or can’t, depending on who you ask. In June 2023, high-priority calls took the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) an average of 21 minutes to respond, up five minutes from last year. (My aunt approached a PPB officer in the park and complained that she had called them, repeatedly, and they just never showed up. He told her they’re so short staffed they only come “if there’s blood.”)

It’s unlikely the police would respond to any of the nuisances described by Myrle, from her side-stepping “needles, shattered glass and human feces” to a man kicking off his shoes and laying down on the coffee shop’s couch, refusing to leave. Hoffman devotes a single sentence to the main point: “…that [Myrle’s] witnessing a confluence of longstanding societal problems, including mental health and housing crises.” None of what she describes has anything to do with the fact drug possession no longer warrants a misdemeanor arrest like it did in 2020. The entire rest of the article implies causality between drug decriminalization and myriad other social ills, such as homelessness, petty crime and drug overdose.