Political and Legislative

Oregon Becomes 1st State to Decriminalize Hard Drugs

Oregon Becomes 1st State to Decriminalize Hard Drugs  Jo-Anna Nieves  https://thenieveslawfirm.com/

Drug legalization has taken a significant step forward, with Oregon becoming the first state to decriminalize “hard drugs.” While many states have legalized marijuana, Oregon has gone further with the decriminalization of all hard drugs on the ballot. This means that the possession of small amounts of drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine has been decriminalized. If Oregon’s decriminalization policy works, then country-wide drug reform may follow.

Oregon Measure 110, Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative

Oregon Measure 110 was approved and voted in on November 3, 2020; it made the personal possession of a controlled substance no more than a Class E violation. A Class E violation has a max fine of $100. This measure also established a drug addiction treatment and recovery program which is to be partially funded by the state’s marijuana tax revenue. Measure 110 is transforming the criminal nature of drug crimes to a public health approach.

Supporters of Measure 110

Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, called the passing of measure 110 a landmark decision, and the Oregon Democratic Party were huge proponents for the passing of Measure 110. Kayse Jama, the executive director of Unite Oregon, stated that Measure 110 is a step forward in stopping the disproportionate incarnation of people of color for drug possession.

Supporters have been arguing for decriminalization, citing that drug misuse is not a criminal issue, but an issue of public health. Along with being a drain on police resources, criminal drug charges have also led to racially biased arrests. These arrests can dismantle a person’s life, as drug charges leave a criminal history and can impede on securing employment, housing, and other essentials of livelihood.

The Case Against Measure 110

The Oregon Republican Party believes that the decriminalization efforts were reckless and too radical. Naomi Schaefer Riley and John Walters explained that these efforts could increase substance abuse, as this measure lowers the criminal risk for drug dealers and could, by extension, increase the amount of drugs people have access to in their everyday life.

They also worry about this easier access to drugs leading to higher addiction rates. The District Attorney for Washington County, Kevin Barton, stated that he is most worried about the exposure teenagers would have to these addictive drugs.

Decriminalization vs. Legalization

While the terms legalization and decriminalization are often used interchangeably, they have two very different meanings. Drug decriminalization means that the criminal penalties are lessened or removed, such as jail time for the possession or use of a drug.

In Oregon, all controlled substances can now only be charged up to a Class E violation, so the penalties were greatly lessened. Legalization, on the other hand, is the removal of all legal penalties—so if a person is found in possession of a legalized drug, there would no longer be any penalties. In Oregon, for example, marijuana is legalized, and dispensaries can sell marijuana. However, dispensaries are not going to be able to sell hard drugs, as they have only been decriminalized.

Possible Benefits of Drug Decriminalization

There are potentially significant benefits when drugs are decriminalized. The clearest benefit is a drop in arrests and convictions. When a person is arrested or convicted of a crime, there are often more unforeseen consequences that the person will face in the future. When fewer people are being arrested and convicted on drug charges, their livelihood will be protected.

The popular belief and argument against the decriminalization of drugs are that drug use and crime would increase. However, numerous studies show that the opposite often occurs. When drugs are decriminalized, addiction and overdose rates usually decrease, and the risk of HIV/AIDS is minimized. If drug use is decriminalized, people who have avoided medical assistance in the past (to hide their drug habits) might come out and get the help they need. Over a million people in the U.S. alone are arrested for drug possession. However, drugs are still a rampant issue, which could suggest the policy is not working. When drugs are decriminalized, the resources allocated to drug enforcement could be used instead to finance better drug treatment and health services for addicts.

The Case of Portugal

While Oregon is the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize all drugs, they are not the first. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs and pushed for better funding to treatment and rehabilitation facilities. Portugal decriminalized drugs over a decade ago, and has seen substantial long term benefits. While penalties were still in place if people decided not to seek treatment, these penalties were fines or loss of professional licenses, instead of incarceration.

Since drugs were decriminalized, substance abuse and addiction rates have been cut in half. It was also found that treatment and rehab is significantly less expensive than prison and that recovery is more likely to occur in a rehab facility than in jail. After completion of treatment, individuals are likely to become productive members of society again, and drug trafficking-related violence have also lessened.

After full decriminalization, the Portuguese also saw more people seeking help, because they took away the fear of being arrested for drug use. With this legislation in place for years, it seems that the benefits have outweighed the potential negatives in the case of Portugal.

The Future of Drug Decriminalization and the War on Drugs

The U.S. has recently faced one of the worst overdose crises with the opioid epidemic, and Oregon’s actions could drastically change these statistics. The state has taken aggressive steps to end the war on drugs—which was focused on prohibiting and criminalizing drug use—through these measures that effectively remove the fear of mass incarceration for drug use and the chance of rehabilitation.

Most states have legalized marijuana and made many other drug-related charges misdemeanors instead of felonies, but drugs still remain illegal on the federal level. Measure 110 could play out like an experiment, with other states waiting to see results before the following suit.

Many believe that the current prohibition of drugs has not been working to end the war on drugs, and has had more consequences than positive rewards. There have been millions of arrests that have disproportionately affected people of color, drug-related crimes, and the formation of drug cartels to meet supply and demand in the U.S.

Not unlike alcohol, it seems that prohibition does not stop drug use, nor has not dealt with ongoing epidemics such as the opioid crisis. Oregon is giving more funding to addiction treatment centers and is working to solve the drug crisis instead of trying to apply force. Measure 110 could potentially help create a new nationwide framework for the United States regarding drug use and rehabilitation.

Oregon Becomes 1st State to Decriminalize Hard Drugs Jo-Anna Nieves https://thenieveslawfirm.com/

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