Report: Oregon Could Be The First State To Decriminalize Drug Possession
According to The Appeal, a ballot initiative in Oregon could make it the first state to decriminalize low-level drug possession, focusing on rehabilitation rather than incarceration for those who use drugs.
- The initiative, known as Measure 110 or the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, would “decriminalize possession of personal amounts of drugs, weighing between a gram or two depending on the substance.”
- It would also “swap arrests and criminal penalties for a noncriminal $100 citation, and it would fund more treatment services,” according to the report.
“What we’re really trying to do is move substance use out of a criminal justice model and into a healthcare model where it belongs,” said Haven Wheelock, one of the initiative’s chief petitioners. Wheelock also works at downtown Portland’s Outside In, providing services to homeless youth and people who use drugs. “Punishing people for a substance use disorder is an ineffective way of changing people’s drug use behavior. We know that because we’ve been trying for a hundred years to punish people into not using substances, and it hasn’t worked.”
- A state analysis found that “Measure 110 would wipe away the vast majority of criminal cases for drug possession.” However, the ballot initiative “would not decriminalize offenses associated with drug sales, nor would it stop law enforcement against drug possession since this would be treated as a civil infraction.”
- The Appeal reported that “The $100 fine would be waived if a person agrees to a health assessment where they would be screened for a substance use disorder and other health needs by licensed professionals.”
This initiative is modeled after reforms undertaken by Portugal. In the 1990s, Portugal faced an injection drug crisis that led to a growing number of overdoses and an outbreak of HIV. To tackle the issue, drugs were decriminalized; in addition, new policies focused on boosting treatment and prevention programs.
Since Portugal changed its approach, drug-related deaths, drug use, and HIV infections have all plummeted.
- The report noted that there is "wide support for a new approach to criminal justice and drug policy" in the United States: " A 2018 poll found that three quarters of Americans believe the criminal legal system needs significant improvements, and 85 percent believe the main goal of the system should be rehabilitation."
- Similarly, "A 2014 report by Pew Research Center found 67 percent of people think the government should focus more on treatment for people who use illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin, compared to just 26 percent who think prosecution of drug dealers should be the priority."