by Dale Chappell
Yes, it’s true: Oregon voted to decriminalize personal possession of recreational drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and others this past Election Day. It’s an effort to stop “penalizing addiction,” the new law says, and to focus on treatment instead of jail for addicts.
Known on the ballot as Measure 110, the law titled the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative has “reclassified” possession of small amounts of recreational drugs that used to land people in jail, down to a class E misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $100 and no possible jail time.
Now possessing up to 2 grams of cocaine or methamphetamine, 1 gram of heroin or ecstasy, or 40 units of LSD, oxycodone, or methadone will result in a ticket and nothing more.
The fine can be waived or refunded if a qualified drug treatment program is completed.
The new law doesn’t technically “legalize” these drugs; it’s still against the law to possess them. And it doesn’t preclude the federal government from pursuing charges on its own. [Note: Possession of any of these drugs alone carries at least two years in federal prison under the sentencing guidelines.] The state also will continue to enforce existing laws for possession of larger amounts of these drugs.
At least 25 countries have decriminalized some drugs, including Portugal, which saw drug use, disease, and overdose deaths drop over the last 20 years under its reduced laws. The results seen in Portugal began the drive to decriminalize drugs in Oregon back in 2017 when the state legalized marijuana. It also had reduced possession of recreational drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. Now the state has removed the incarceration component of laws banning personal possession of certain drugs.
“People suffering from addiction are more effectively treated with health care services than with criminal punishments,” the new law says. “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.”
Opponents of Measure 110 argued that decriminalizing these small amounts of recreational drugs would make it harder to treat addiction, because judges wouldn’t have the criminal punishment aspect available to coerce people into treatment.
The new law goes into effect February 1, 2021.
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