Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs for Personal Use — And Cannabis Has a Major Role in Reform

Oregon’s huge middle finger to the War on Drugs by becoming the first US state to fully decriminalize possession and use of all drugs.

Oregon measure 110 passed
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  • Oregon has put into effect a ballot that decriminalizes anyone in possession of a small amount of any drug.
  • It now means people can no longer be arrested for possession — rather they will be offered a choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment.
  • The addiction recovery treatment centers, set up to treat those identified as needing help, will be funded through taxed cannabis sales in the state.
  • In addition, the ballot stipulates that $45 million of cannabis tax proceeds should be designated for various public services in the state.
  • Advocates state that treatment should be prioritized over punishment and it is hoped that other states will follow suit.  
  • Oregon is the first US state to completely decriminalize drug possession for personal use.
  • The law was opposed by over 42% and labeled “reckless” by those who voted against it.
  • Drug reform doesn’t cause an increase in marijuana use among adolescents — legalized states have seen a 16% decline in marijuana use.

Source: opb.org

Oregon has decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use, in a landmark ballot that went into effect on February 1, 2021.

The state is the first to pass a drug decriminalization law. No other states have adopted such a liberal and forward-thinking stance on how they criminalize drug use. 

In 2014, Oregon joined Alaska to become the third state to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, following Washington and California who legalized it in 2012. Since then, their revenues from cannabis sales peaked at $133 million in 2020 — a 545% increase from 2016.

How drug decriminalization will help the people of Oregon (and why it matters)

Drug decriminalization in Oregon is a positive step forward and a middle finger to the War on Drugs campaign. We imagine Richard Nixon and all those who backed the campaign are rolling in their graves at the mere thought of not criminalizing people for minor drug possession and use. 

Oregonian residents found in possession of a small amount of any drug, including methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine, will no longer be arrested. Those found in possession will instead be given the choice of a $100 fine or health assessment.

An estimated 3,700 fewer residents will face prosecution as a result. This is a significant number of people who won’t have a criminal record for minor drug possession. 

Drug convictions stain your record and negatively impact future job prospects. Many employers see drug convictions as a red flag, potentially deeming you unfit for their company or business, irrespective of how well you come across in an interview. Eligibility for bank loans and negative effects on renting a house or gaining child custody may also occur. 

This absurdity is dumbfounding. Simple drug possession and use convictions disproportionately affect offenders in more ways than one, which is why Oregon is also taking further steps to help those caught with small amounts. 

Oregon will prioritize drug rehabilitation treatment

Oregon is looking to prioritize drug rehabilitation treatment for drug offenders via recovery centers which, the ballot says, will be funded from tax revenue generated through the state’s cannabis industry.

Supporters of the Oregon Measure 110, among whom include the Drug Policy Alliance, said that treatment should be made a priority and criminalizing drugs isn’t working. As mentioned, those with a  criminal record for personal possession can face a lifetime of struggles finding gainful employment and stable housing.

Drug rehabilitation is the most humane way of tackling illicit or prescription drug abuse and addiction. Oregon saw a 70% increase in opioid overdose deaths between 2019-2020. 

Once these treatment services are fully-funded, it is hoped that the state could funnel this revenue elsewhere.  

“As Oregon’s treatment programs reach full funding, the state should evaluate what other services would benefit from our continually-growing marijuana tax revenues,” Oregon Education Association President, John Larson, told AP News. He added that a “balanced approach to budgeting” would benefit everyone in the community.

The ballot measure 110 seeks to designate tax revenue to a number of public services 

The ballot (named Ballot Measure 110) also stipulates that $45 million of cannabis tax revenue should be designated to fund various public services annually in Oregon. These include schools, mental health provision for problems caused by alcoholism and excessive drug use, state police, and other cities and counties in the state. With the rest going towards the “Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund”

Kassandra Fredrique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, described the move as the fall of “the first domino of our cruel and inhumane war on drugs” in a statement made on Monday. She added that they expect it will trigger a “cascade of other efforts centering health overcriminalization”.

Drug decriminalization not favored by all 

However, the ballot did not achieve a landslide victory. Almost 42% voted against the Oregon Measure 110. Two dozen district attorneys labeled the move “reckless”, believing the liberalization of hard drugs would increase. 

These baseless concerns are unfounded in countries where decriminalization is already in place. The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Portugal have all decriminalized the possession of drugs for those carrying a small amount on their person, and significant evidence shows the drug situation in Portugal has improved. 

There’s also concern that children will see drugs as accepted, leading to increased use among adolescents. 

“I think It’s a bad idea to decriminalize for children. I think it sends a really bad message to them, and influences their perception of the risks, at a time when it’s the most dangerous drugs have ever been,” stated Oregonian defense attorney James O’Rourke, who specializes in addiction and alcoholism. 

This worry isn’t particularly grounded in reality, to be honest. In terms of states practicing cannabis reform, decriminalization, or legalization, data shows no increase in adolescent use. Marijuana use actually declined by roughly 16% in legalized states.