In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the use of marijuana. It was a landmark decision that was almost as noteworthy as its recent decision to decriminalize hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.
The lawmakers went to the ballot with the goal of deciding if illicit drugs should be criminalized or not.
Strangely, the bill to decriminalize hard drugs passed successfully. The idea is to make the state's current drug policy less punitive.
The decriminalization also aims to make the use of these substances less criminal. Additionally, this law will make handling the state's drug problem more cost-effective and infuse some humanity into the process of dealing with drug users.
Drug Decriminalization In Oregon
Up until now, the ultimate solution to drug possession was thought to be prison time and arrests. However, locking up drug users only gives them a criminal record without helping them relinquish their drug dependency.
That is what the current drug law seeks to address.
The Oregon Nurses Association, the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians, and the Oregon Chapter of the American College of Physicians all think this is a huge step in the right direction. These organizations believe that Oregon's drug problem is evidence that the criminalization of drugs is a problem and not a solution.
At the moment, about two people lose their lives to drugs in Oregon each day. In a joint statement, the organizations highlighted how much the state needed these changes:
"We urgently need a change to save families and save lives."
The decriminalization law is known as "Measure 110." It will be used on citizens who will be caught using heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone, and other hard drugs in "personal-use amounts."
Rather than face jail time and arrests, they will have two choices: 1) paying a fine of $100 or 2) attending an "addiction recovery center" funded by taxes from the state's marijuana industry.
Once the new law comes into force, around 3,700 citizens will be freed from the burden of facing felony or misdemeanor drug possession charges every year.
Here is what Janie Gullickson, co-chief petitioner of Measure 110 had to say:
"This is such a big step in moving to a health-based approach instead of criminal punishment, and we're devoting significant new resources to help Oregonians who need it."
Director of Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, called the new legislation "incredible."
"This is like taking a sledgehammer to the cornerstone of the drug way."
What Personal-Use Amount Means
The new law clearly talks about "personal-use amounts" of controlled substances. These amounts vary from one drug to another.
For instance, a personal-use amount in the case of heroin or MDMA is any quantity less than one gram. However, in the case of methamphetamine or cocaine, that amount is two grams or less.
For oxycodone, less than forty pills, tablets, or capsules are also considered a personal-use amount. Similarly, less than forty units of LSD and methadone are categorized as personal-use amounts.
Anyone in possession of amounts greater than this will still face criminal charges. People who manufacture, sell, or even drive under the influence of drugs are also not off the hook and will still face the full force of the law.
Another important thing to note is that this new law will not be retroactively applied to past convictions.
Some People Are Not Happy
Although a majority of state residents were in support of Measure 110, a few people were opposed to the new legislative changes. In fact, a number of district attorneys thought the new law was quite reckless.
However, Oregon is hardly the only state to have relaxed its drug policies. Other states, including Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, and South Dakota have already legalized marijuana.
This Is Not New
Yes, more lax drug policies are an exception in the United States, but the technique has been used in other countries before.
Other countries to decriminalize hard drugs include Portugal, Netherlands and Switzerland.
After Portugal decriminalized all drugs almost 20 years ago in 2001, it has seen a significant reduction in its drug problem, including a drop in cases of sexually transmitted diseases.
According to a study by Cato Institute in 2009:
"There is a consensus that decriminalization, by destigmatizing drug use, will bring a higher proportion of users into treatment, thereby increasing the need for treatment."
In short, decriminalization reduces drug addiction and helps improve availability of treatment resources to those who need them. It was discovered that death rates due to drug overdose in Portugal are five times lower than in the rest of the EU.
Is This The Sign Of A Safer Future?
Supporters of Measure 110 believe that this new law is a very good sign:
"Today's victory is a landmark declaration that the time has come to stop criminalizing people for drug use. Measure 110 is arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date."
However, the current law will not be effective until February 2021.
If the efficiency of Portugal's drug policies is anything to go by, then Measure 110 should aid the war on drugs in Oregon significantly.