Drug Decriminalization Goes Into Effect in Oregon

Oregon’s state law decriminalizing all drugs officially goes into effect today, February 1st.

The first-of-its-kind initiative, Measure 110, passed overwhelmingly last November, with 58.5 percent voting in favor. As the Salem, Oregon Statesman Journal notes, the law reclassifies possession of small amounts of drugs (e.g. less than one gram of heroin, 40 units of LSD, or 12 grams of psilocybin) as a civil violation that comes with a $100 fine, though that fine can be avoided if the person agrees to seek treatment. For possession of slightly larger amounts of some drugs (such as one to three grams of heroin, or two to eight grams of cocaine), the penalty has been reduced from a felony to misdemeanor possession.

Based on successful decriminalization models implemented in Portugal and Switzerland, proponents of Measure 110 see it as a chance to prioritize drug treatment over police enforcement. New treatment services — including 15 addiction recovery centers to be opened by October 1st — will be funded with excess marijuana tax revenue, which stands at over $45 million now and could grow to $129 million by 2027, per the Drug Policy Alliance. Additionally, Oregon will fund these services with the money it’s expected to save by no longer arresting, incarcerating and prosecuting people for drug possession.

“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,” Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “For the first time in at least half a century, one place in the United States — Oregon — will show us that we can give people help without punishing them. This law is meant to protect people against persecution, harassment and criminalization at the hands of the state for using drugs and instead given access to the supports they need.”

Along with potentially curbing the kind of mass incarceration wrought by the War on Drugs, Measure 110 is expected to change some police behavior as well. Chris Parosa, a prosecutor for the Lane County District Attorney’s Office, told the Statesman Journal that if an officer previously saw a pipe in a car, they would be able to establish probable cause for a possible felony; now, if they see a pipe in a car, it’s just a violation, which does not give law enforcement grounds to search a vehicle.

According to a study from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which the Oregon Secretary of State’s office released last August, Measure 110 could also significantly shrink racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system. Oregon could see a 95 percent decrease in racial disparities in drug arrests, as well as other significant drops in police stops, jail bookings, bail, pretrial detention and more.

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