Drug Decriminalization Takes Effect in Oregon

Voters approved changes in November
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 1, 2021 6:32 PM CST
Oregon Tries New Approach on Drug Possession
Volunteers deliver boxes containing signed petitions in favor of Measure 110 to the Oregon Secretary of State's office in Salem, Oregon, last June.   (Yes on Measure 110 Campaign via AP, File)

Police in Oregon can no longer arrest someone for possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone, and other drugs as a ballot measure that decriminalized them took effect on Monday. Instead, those found in possession would face a $100 fine or a health assessment that could lead to addiction counseling, the AP reports. Backers of the ballot measure, which Oregon voters passed by a wide margin in November, hailed it as a revolutionary move for the US. "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 the head of the Drug Policy Alliance, which spearheaded the ballot initiative. Ballot Measure 110's backers said that treatment needs to be the priority and that criminalizing drug possession was not working. Having a criminal record makes it difficult to find housing and jobs and can haunt a person for a lifetime.

Two dozen district attorneys had opposed the measure, saying it was reckless and would lead to an increase in the acceptability of dangerous drugs. Under the new system, addiction recovery centers will be tasked with "triaging the acute needs of people who use drugs and assessing and addressing any ongoing needs thorough intensive case management and linkage to care and services." The centers will be funded with millions of dollars of tax revenue from Oregon's legalized marijuana industry. That diverts funds from other programs and entities that already receive it, such as schools. While this approach is new in the US, several countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, have decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, according to the UN. Portugal’s 2000 decriminalization brought no surge in drug use. Drug deaths fell while the number of people treated for drug addiction in the country rose 20% from 2001 to 2008, then stabilized, Portuguese officials have said.

(More decriminalization stories.)

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