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Portland's mayor to present ban on public drug use to city council next week

The new ordinance is nearly the same as the one that Mayor Wheeler introduced earlier in the summer. It would add a ban on public drug use to an existing ordinance.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and city Commissioner Rene Gonzalez plan to re-introduce a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal to consume drugs in public spaces.

The mayor's office announced Friday that the ordinance will be presented during a city council meeting sometime next week. It would add "consumption of a controlled substance" to an existing city ordinance that already bans drinking alcohol in public.

Anyone convicted of violating the ordinance may be required to pay a fine of up to $500, or spend up to six months in jail, or both. However, in a news release on Friday, Mayor Wheeler's office said the city of Portland supports "alternatives to criminal punishment whenever practical when enforcing City Code."

The Story's Pat Dooris spoke with Gonzalez earlier this week.

"We're all seeing it, you know, regularly this outside consumption of hard drugs and then what comes after it," Gonzalez said. "We don't want our kids inhaling that as they're walking down the street. We don't want to breathe it and we certainly don't want to see the behaviors that come in the immediate aftermath."

RELATED: 'No longer necessary': Portland mayor nixes proposal to ban public drug use

Gonzalez added that the proposal has been co-sponsored by the rest of city council. He said he thinks there's a "good chance" it will pass 5-0 at city council.

Commissioner Mingus Mapps, Commissioner Carmen Rubio, Commissioner Dan Ryan and Wheeler all released statements on Friday in support of the ordinance.

"Addressing the public health crisis unfolding on our streets requires all of us working together to make the kind of systemic change our city needs," Wheeler said. "We need all levels of government moving with urgency to prioritize ways we can help our communities struggling with behavioral health and substance abuse in a compassionate manner."

The new ordinance is nearly the same as the one that Wheeler introduced earlier in the summer. Just days after introducing the idea, Wheeler backtracked and said he wouldn't introduce it after all. He pointed to House Bill 2645, which had been passed by the Oregon Legislature. Wheeler reasoned that the bill would give Portland police the tools to "better address open drug use in our city" without needing a ban on drug use itself. The bill makes certain amounts of possession of fentanyl a misdemeanor. However, it doesn't address public drug use. At the time, Wheeler also said that the ordinance, if passed, would likely be challenged in court because of a state law. Currently, ORS 430.402, prevents local governments from prohibiting public drug use.

The new plan Wheeler plans to introduce next week includes something called a "trigger" amendment, meaning the law would go into effect immediately after the Oregon Legislature or the courts authorize action.

"We can't enforce until we get the changes in state law, and I think for Portlanders, they're a little bit tired of this talk. They want to see changes and outcome," Gonzalez said.

Wheeler's office also wrote a separate resolution that directs the city's Office of Government Relations to work on getting people together to lobby lawmakers in Salem to allow cities to ban public drug use during the short session of the legislature next year.

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