Oregon has become the first U.S. state to stop charging drug users with criminal offenses. On November 3rd, voters passed a ballot measure that decriminalizes possession of heroin, oxycodone, meth, LSD, cocaine, and other so-called “hard” drugs.
“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.”
~ Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance
This measure entirely changes how Oregon’s justice system treats those found with small amounts of hard drugs intended for personal uses. Moreover, instead of going to trial and facing the possibility of jail time, an individual would be given the option of paying a $100 fine or attending new addiction centers funded by millions of dollars of taxes generated from Oregon’s legal and regulated marijuana industry.
Only small amounts of drugs are decriminalized. These include less than 1 gram of heroin or MDMA, two grams of cocaine or methamphetamine, 12 grams of psilocybin mushrooms, and 40 doses of LSD, methadone, or oxycodone.
The “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” is set to transition Oregon’s drug policy from a criminal approach to “a humane, cost-effective, health approach.”
The Ballot Initiative
From the ballot measure:
“People suffering from addiction are more effectively treated with health care services than with criminal punishments. A health care approach includes a health assessment to figure out the needs of people who are suffering from addiction, and it includes connecting them to the services they need.”
The passage of the measure means that Oregon is now a pioneer of sorts in the U.S., as it will become effective 30 days after Tuesday’s election. This initiative may sound like a somewhat radical concept. But still, the measure’s advocates say that making criminals out of drug users—and burdening them with criminal records that make it challenging to find employment and housing—is not working.
The Oregon Nurses Association, the Oregon American College of Physicians, and the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians cited statistics stating that one in 11 Oregonians is addicted to a drug. Nearly two people die each day from overdoses in the state. They noted that “We urgently need a change to save families and save lives.”
According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, this will mean that about 3,700 fewer people in Oregon per year will be convicted of felony or misdemeanor possession of controlled substances now that the measure has passed. The agency also said that this initiative would also reduce racial and ethnic disparities in arrests and convictions.
The New Approach
Although this approach is new to the U.S., several countries, including Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, have long since decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs. According to Portuguese officials, Portugal’s 2000 decriminalization brought no uptick in drug use. Drug fatalities fell while the number of individuals treated for drug addiction increased by 20% from 20010-2008 and then stabilized.
“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.”
~ Janie Gullickson, the co-chief petitioner of Measure 110.
The Secretary of State’s office reports that the measure was approved by 59% of roughly two million votes counted so far.
Many district attorneys opposed the measure stating that it was reckless and would increase dangerous substances’ acceptability. Two other district attorneys, including one in Oregon’s most populous county that includes Portland, backed the initiative, as did a district attorney-elect.
The measure is not “grandfathered in” for past convictions, but there may be efforts through the Legislature to expunge some criminal records, which the Drug Policy Alliance says it would support.
Oregon voters also legalized the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms, with a two-year development period. War veterans with PTSD, terminally ill patients, and sufferers if anxiety had voiced support for this practice. The measure requires the Oregon Health Authority to permit licensed, regulated production and possession of psilocybin, exclusively for administration by licensed caregivers.
Before Tuesday’s elections, Oregon was among 11 states that had legalized marijuana. Several other states have recently since followed—Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voters all approved ballot measures this past Tuesday legalizing marijuana use for adults.
Importantly, crimes associated with drug use, including manufacturing and selling drugs and driving under the influence, are still considered criminal offenses.
Getting Treatment for Substance Abuse
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer personalized, comprehensive programs in both partial hospitalization and residential (inpatient) formats. Those who need to undergo medical detox will receive around-the-clock care, including medications to help resolve many of the side effects of withdrawal.
Our highly-skilled, caring team of specialists is dedicated to providing those we treat with the resources, compassion, and support they need to recover from addiction and go on to live fulfilling and healthy lives. Our programs include various services and activities clinically-proven to be vital for the process of recovery, such as behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, 12-step programs, group support, health, wellness, and substance abuse education, aftercare planning, and much more.