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Oregon lawmakers propose shift to start new centers by Jan. 1 instead of Oct. 1 under Measure 110

PMG FILE PHOTO - Drug treatment programs could get more money under a legislative compromise.Oregon lawmakers are poised to approve a compromise that will shift $20 million in marijuana sales taxes to support addiction recovery services, a change passed as part of Measure 110 last year.

Under the compromise, which the Legislature's joint budget committee cleared on Friday, March 19, the Oregon Health Authority will take the lead, not a new council created by the ballot measure under the agency, in preliminary work toward creating new addiction recovery centers in areas served by Oregon's coordinated-care organizations. The startup date for the new addiction recovery centers will be Jan. 1, instead of Oct. 1.

Oregon Health & Science University also will receive funding to compile an inventory of existing treatment and recovery services by Aug. 1.

Measure 110, which voters approved Nov. 3, decriminalizes possession of small amounts of some drugs other than marijuana — they are now subject to a $100 fine or a health assessment — and earmarks some marijuana sales taxes to fund the new centers.

Gov. Kate Brown had proposed in her two-year budget to postpone the measure's start until July 2022, a step that drew loud protests from the measure's advocates.

A budget reconciliation bill (HB 5042) includes the proposed $20 million shift in marijuana sales taxes for the remainder of the current two-year budget cycle, which ends June 30. A separate bill (SB 846) would make the program changes.

Both bills are planned for votes of the full House and Senate this coming week. They will take effect once Brown signs them.

"This was not done willy-nilly by the Legislature, but rather in close consultation to ensure that the funds we spend are spent to the best effect possible and to the best benefit of people receiving services," Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, a co-leader of the legislative budget panel and a physician, said before the committee votes.

Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, said in a statement afterward that the compromise would ensure release of some marijuana sales taxes immediately to existing treatment and recovery programs.

"What we're seeing now is providers having to shutter operations and reduce staff and programs, all during a time when people need these services now more than ever before," Hurst said. "The need for funding is overwhelming, and this $20 million will help ensure that providers can serve the most vulnerable individuals in our community."

The alliance is a coalition of more than 75 groups that seek implementation of Measure 110.

It is not unusual for lawmakers to make further changes in ballot measures after voters approve them, although changes in constitutional amendments have to go back to voters in a statewide election. Measure 110 is a law, as were the 1998 ballot measure for medical marijuana and the 2014 ballot measure for legalization of marijuana for adult use. Lawmakers negotiated changes in the earlier measures with advocates and others.

"I know there has been concern in the virtual hallways we are now occupying about whether the Oregon Health Authority could get the money out fast enough to community-based groups," said Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland. "I want to encourage them to do this as fast as they can, because there is plenty of need out there."

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