Story to a glance
- In 2020, voters approved a measure to decriminalize drugs in the state and provide addiction and recovery services.
- The law goes into effect on Feb. 1, reclassifying possession of small amounts of drugs as a civil violation.
- Advocates of decriminalization say this is a significant move to ending the war on drugs.
Oregon’s historic measure decriminalizing all drugs goes into effect today, a major victory for advocates in the war against the war on drugs.
“Today, the first domino of our cruel and inhumane war on drugs has fallen—setting off what we expect to be a cascade of other efforts centering health over criminalization,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “For the first time in at least half a century, one place in the United States — Oregon — will show us that we can give people help without punishing them. This law is meant to protect people against persecution, harassment and criminalization at the hands of the state for using drugs and instead given access to the supports they need.”
Measure 110, also known as the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, was approved by voters last year, reclassifying the possession of small amounts of drugs as a civil violation, subject to either a $100 fine or a completed health assessment by a designated center. The initiative uses taxes from the sale of marijuana, which was legalized in 2014, to partially finance addiction recovery centers and services.
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Under the new law, people who are found possessing drugs won’t be arrested, but instead will be connected to services such as treatment, peer support and recovery services, and even housing and job assistance if needed or wanted, according to a statement by the Drug Policy Alliance.
The war on drugs, spearheaded by President Richard Nixon, has disproportionately targeted and harmed Black and other nonwhite communities in the United States. In Oregon, the new law is estimated to decrease racial disparities in drug arrests by 95 percent, according to a report.
“This drop in convictions will result in fewer collateral consequences stemming from criminal justice system involvement, which include the reduced ability to find employment, reduced access to housing, restrictions on the receipt of student loans, inability to obtain professional licensure, and others,” the report says.
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Advocates like the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is made up more than 70 community-based organizations across the state, are celebrating the move, but also preparing for the work to come. Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic recession, the measure will also provide some relief to an overburdened health care system that has seen an increase in drug-related hospitalizations due to the opioid epidemic.
It’s official! Starting today, people will no longer be arrested and jailed for possession of small amounts of drugs, thanks to all of you who voted overwhelmingly for ballot Measure 110! #orleg #orpol #NoMoreDrugWar https://t.co/jgIZ6UN3l1
— Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance (@OHJRAlliance) February 1, 2021
Opponents have argued that the measure would lead to an increase in “acceptability of dangerous drugs” and would “recklessly decriminalize” possession of drugs, according to The Associated Press (AP) in October 2020.
But, proponents say the decades-old war on drugs has not worked, and are hopeful Oregon’s initiative spurs a wave of national measures that undo the damage of drug criminalization and its disproportionate effects on people of color across the U.S.
“Punishing people for drug use and addiction is costly and hasn’t worked. More drug treatment, not punishment, is a better approach,” a group of advocates said in a statement reported by the AP at the time.
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