Nathan Gullickson was treated for his opioid addiction in December within 24 hours of seeking aid from a Portland clinic. 

He received the quick help through a program funded by Measure 110, Oregon’s first-in-the-nation approach to addiction, which voters approved in 2020. The measure directs marijuana tax revenues toward addiction support programs and services, while decriminalizing low-level drug possession. He’s one of 60,000 Oregonians to get help from a Measure 110-funded program.

In the past, Gullickson had struggled to find services to help him overcome his addiction in Oregon. The state has the highest rate of illicit drug use nationwide and ranks last in access to treatment, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Now, recovery advocates and providers are fighting potential funding cuts to Measure 110, which  directs marijuana tax revenues toward addiction support programs and services, while decriminalizing low-level drug possession.

House Bill 2089, discussed Wednesday and last week in the House Revenue Committee, would give cities, counties and state police millions of dollars of that revenue, cutting back on funding for Measure 110 addiction programs, without ending them entirely. 

Gullickson said he started injecting heroin when he was 14 years old. 

“I’ve always been in the back of the waiting list and I’m fortunate I even survived long enough to get help,” Gullickson, 31, said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle. 

Recovery advocates and providers say the state needs to give Measure 110 a chance to work before any funds are redirected elsewhere.

But cities and counties say they have faced a sudden loss of marijuana tax revenue after Measure 110 passed – and need the money to provide essential services like law enforcement.

The purpose of the proposal is to help “restore revenue that was abruptly lost,” Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene and the revenue committee chair, said in a hearing. She’s the chief sponsor of HB 2089.

Breaking down the numbers

Marijuana tax revenues bring in hundreds of millions annually. Before Measure 110 passed, a large piece of that went to cities, counties, police, schools and local and state mental health services.

After the measure passed, it capped those distributions at $45 million annually, adjusted only for inflation. The rest went into new addiction services, putting more than $100 million annually into the new Measure 110 programs.

For cities and counties, the change meant a loss of more than $20 million annually in marijuana tax revenues, legislative budget notes show. 

The bill proposes a funding mechanism that would restore those losses and put the equivalent of $29 million annually, adjusted for inflation, in marijuana tax revenue towards cities, counties and state police. 

City and county officials say the bill would not end Measure 110 funding – but it would lessen the financial blow local government agencies face now.

“Cities provide critical services including police and fire protection, sewer and water treatment, libraries, parks and recreation, street maintenance, and social services,”  Lindsay Tenes, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities. “Cities are increasingly responding to the housing crisis with innovative solutions to keep their residents housed. Many programs and services have been functioning with the help of federal pandemic relief funds, much of which expires soon.”

Derrick DeGroot, a  Klamath County commissioner and president of Association of Oregon Counties, told lawmakers it’s a “reasonable and balanced approach” that would help counties facing challenges like illegal marijuana grows with human trafficking.

“We have gentlemen that go to check on these grows to find out what exactly is going on,” he said. “They’re just code enforcement officers and they’re met with armed men.”

Oregon’s addiction needs 

Measure 110 emerged against a grim backdrop. 

The state lacks nearly half the resources it needs to treat addiction, according to a 2022 report by Oregon Health & Science University that analyzed the gap between needs and available resources.

So far, Measure 110 programs have helped more than 60,000 people in Oregon, according to an Oregon Health Authority report released last week. The measure has set up programs to help people in each county. 

Measure 110 had a rocky start and the state struggled to set up programs, with a Secretary of State audit urging policymakers to make changes.

The measure’s support is not universal, either. Republican lawmakers have introduced at least seven bills to overturn the measure and make low-level drug possession a crime again. Those bills are unlikely to make headway in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

On Wednesday, advocates and providers shared their stories and urged lawmakers to hold off on the change.

They heard from Janie Gullickson, Nathan’s stepmother and the executive director of Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon. Her organization provides peer services to help people in recovery. It has more than 150 employees, more than 30 of them funded with Measure 110 dollars.

Gullickson said she was unable to find help for her son – even with her knowledge of recovery options – until after Measure 110 programs were in place. 

“I got him in within 24 hours,” she said. “He is in recovery today. … God forbid anyone’s child goes to get help and that door is shut because it is unfunded.”

Tera Hurst, executive director of Health Justice Recovery Alliance, a statewide advocacy group, urged lawmakers to look at the big picture and long-term goal amid the shattered lives.

“We are just in the beginning of creating a new system that is going to address our addiction crisis here in Oregon,” Hurst said.

She added: “That could have been your brother, your sister, your daughter, your son – somebody you love.”

Mike Marshall, executive director of Oregon Recovers, an advocacy group, said one challenge with Measure 110 is that it didn’t raise new revenue. Instead, it simply transferred existing revenues from one place to another and “stole from Peter to pay Paul.”

“Transferring funds from needed programs to other needed programs simply does not solve any problems,” Marshall said. “Unfortunately, as crafted, House Bill 2089 is Measure 110 in reverse. It’s Peter clawing back the money that Paul received.”

Marshall encouraged lawmakers to consider ideas to raise more money, including a proposal Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Northeast Portland, is planning. The concept, still in the works, would increase the price of alcohol for a five-year period and put money toward a public education campaign to underage drinking prevention programs.

As for Nathan Gullickson, he said it would be a travesty if programs that aided him lost money. He works in construction and looks for ways to volunteer – like building wheelchair ramps for the disabled.

He said he contributes his new stage in life to the care he received at the clinic. He received Vivitrol, a medication also called naltrexone that blocks the effects of opioids and can help people stop relying upon the drugs.

“The streets are suffering,” he said. “People are suffering. I’ve been to more funerals this year than birthday parties.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.