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Oregon voters to decide on decriminalizing heroin, cocaine and LSD

Oregon voters to decide on decriminalizing heroin, cocaine and LSD
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Oregon could become the first U.S. state to decriminalize possessing hard drugs like heroin, cocaine and LSD in a ballot measure during Tuesday’s election.

If voters pass Measure 110, users found in low-level possession of the substances would have the option of paying $100 fines or attending new, free addiction recovery centers instead of being arrested and facing jail time, The Associated Press reported.

The recovery centers would be funded by tax revenue from retail marijuana sales in the state, which was the country’s first to decriminalize marijuana possession.

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Yes on 110, the organization sponsoring the ballot measure, stresses that the act does not legalize any drugs.

“No change is made in the criminal code for delivery, manufacture, and other commercial drug offenses. These offenses will remain a crime,” according to the website. “No change is made for other crimes that may be associated with drug use, such as driving under the influence and theft.”

Approximately one in 10 Oregonians struggle with substance use disorder, according to Yes on 110.

“This measure expands access to treatment and removes unfairly harsh punishments for minor, nonviolent drug offenses, so people with addiction can more easily recover. People will no longer be arrested and put in jail simply for possession of small amounts of drugs. Instead, they will receive a health assessment and be connected to the right treatment or recovery services, including housing assistance, to help them get their lives back on track.”

The ballot measure is backed by the Oregon Nurses Association, the Oregon chapter of the American College of Physicians and the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians.

“Punishing people for drug use and addiction is costly and hasn’t worked. More drug treatment, not punishment, is a better approach,” the groups said in a statement obtained by the outlet.

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The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimated that convictions for possession of a controlled substance would decrease by 3,679 or 90.7 percent.

“Every hour, police in Oregon arrest someone for drugs — at a time when Oregon has missing children, unsolved murders and a long backlog of cold cases. This measure will free-up police to focus more on what matters,” according to Yes on 110.

Measure 110 is also supported by the Democratic Party of Oregon and several human and civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP Portland. 

It is opposed by two dozen district attorneys who argue the measure “recklessly decriminalizes possession of the most dangerous types of drugs (and) will lead to an increase in acceptability of dangerous drugs.”

"This is a terrible idea. It’s disconnected to what’s best for Oregonians. It will lead to increased crime and increased drug use,” Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said.  

Former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), a former emergency room physician and the longest-serving governor in Oregon history, also urged voters to reject Measure 110 earlier this month in a blog post. 

“I understand that a central motivation behind this ballot measure is to help reverse the disaster caused by the War on Drugs, which incarcerated people suffering from addiction and had a disproportionate impact on Black and Indigenous people and other communities of color,” he wrote. “I agree with this goal, but Measure 110, as written, makes it more difficult to treat the underlying addiction that leads to drug use in the first place.”

Several other countries including Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland have already decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, according to the United Nations.

Portugal’s 2000 decriminalization brought no uptick in drug use, the AP reported. Officials say drug deaths fell while the number of people treated for drug addiction in the country rose 20 percent between 2001 and 2008.