Oregon bill would criminalize drug use on public transit

An amendment introduced to the Oregon Legislature Thursday would criminalize drug use on public transit.

The Oregon Transit Association and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 are seeking to amend Senate Bill 1553 to create a misdemeanor charge for people who use illicit drugs while riding public transit.

The charge of interfering with public transportation would apply to a person who “while in or on a public transit vehicle or public transit station, knowingly ingests, inhales, injects, or otherwise consumes a controlled substance that is not lawfully possessed by the person,” the amendment reads.

People convicted on the charge would in many instances have access to state-funded treatment, according to the groups that proposed the legislation.

In a joint statement released Wednesday, the groups said the fentanyl addiction crisis in Oregon has “led to unprecedented public emergency declarations” and the use of illicit drugs has “extended onto the state’s public transportation systems.”

“Illicit drug use is particularly problematic on transit, which brings people together for a shared ride in the confined spaces of buses and trains,” they said in the statement. “Public transit must feel safe and accessible for everyone, and particularly for the families, essential workers, high school students, individuals with disabilities, and other Oregonians who depend on transit as a lifeline to jobs, education, and health care.”

The statement also asserted that illicit drug use on public transit makes riders and employees feel unsafe, which it said makes people less likely to use the transit systems and “threatens the financial health of transit agencies” and their “ability to provide” for communities.

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Kate Lieber (D). It follows the news that a group of Oregon Democrats plan to introduce a bill that will undo parts of the state’s landmark drug decriminalization law.

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