In a first throughout the United States, Oregon voters effectively decriminalized hard drugs Tuesday evening, further solidifying its stance opposite the war-on-drugs policies of recent memory.
Garnering nearly 60% of the electorate, voters decriminalized the simple possession of Heroin, Methamphetamine, LSD, opiate-analogues and other drugs through the passage of ballot measure 110. The production and therapeutic prescription of psilocybin, the intoxicating substance found within “magic mushrooms,” also passed via ballot measure 109. The District of Columbia is the only other jurisdiction with such laws in the United States.
When Will These New Laws Hit the Books?
Both measures take effect 30 days following the election, and recovery centers must be up and running by Oct. 1, 2021 according to the statute.
The measure states that the maximum fine for simple personal possession of such substances shall not exceed $100 and offenders will be permitted opportunity to attend substance abuse counseling rather than face jail or prison time.
Addiction recovery services are funded by marijuana tax revenues, which total over $408 million since 2016, according to the Oregon state Department of Revenue. The possession of small quantities of marijuana was decriminalized in Oregon in 1973, the first state in the country to take such an action.
Oregon History of Drug Issues
In a state that’s been hammered by addiction over the last ten years, the decisive victory for the decriminalization movement stands as a major blow to the war-on-drugs. Oregon was, at one point, limping its way through an epidemic of heroin and methamphetamine use. Nearly one in 11 residents of the state suffer from substance abuse or addiction, and two people suffer fatal overdoses each day, according to the Oregon Chapter American College of Physicians and the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians.
But the measure did not pass without debate. There were numerous district attorneys throughout the state that posited the measure would encourage drug use and may increase rates of drug abuse or addiction in the years to come.
What to Expect in 2021
The impact on rates of incarceration is yet to be seen, but experts estimate there will be about 3,700 fewer felony or misdemeanor drug convictions handed down in Oregon each year. But the language of the ballot measure does not include a provision for retroactive application of the mandate for open, ongoing, or closed drugs cases.
According to the ballot measure, Oregon law enforcement officials arrest about 8,000 persons each year in which cases a simple drug possession charge is the main or most serious offense. That number would certainly be decreased by the ballot measure.
This Step is not Unprecedented
The idea may seem radical to some, but it is anything other than unprecedented. In Portugal, for example, the possession of hard drugs has been decriminalized since 2000 and led to no immediate surge in the use of such drugs, statistically, according to a report by Time magazine. The Netherlands and Switzerland have similar laws on the books and there are even municipalities within the United States that have decriminalized minor possession of drugs.
Critics of the measure still have their doubts, arguing that strong legal punishment serves as an effective deterrent to the use of hard drugs or other narcotics. One thing is clear — Oregon is blazing a new trail in characteristic fashion.
By Gabriel Perry