In a bold and unprecedented move, Oregon has become the first state to decriminalize hard drugs, including heroin, cocaine and meth. Oregon state legislators have approved a new drug bill they hope will help reduce mass incarceration rates that have skyrocketed over the past decade.
Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs
In Oregon, if you are caught with small amounts of cocaine, heroin, meth and other “hard” illegal drugs, you may expect to pay smaller fines and incur less jail time than previous penalties regarding possession of hard drugs.
- Oregon’s new bill essentially reclassifies drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than a felony and makes it easier for people charged with first-time possession to access addiction treatment.
This novel bill was introduced a few months ago by Oregon lawmakers faced with overcrowded prisons and allegations of statewide racial profiling. It is expected to decrease incidents of racial profiling while facilitating treatment for drug abusers who would receive little to no addiction treatment in prison.
- Oregon’s new law is designed to address drug addicts with more treatment options for their disease rather than putting them in prison for it.
Proponents of Oregon’s decriminalization bill state that it’s not drugs that ruin people lives but the time spent in jail or prison, where treatment is nearly nonexistent and drugs are often more easy to get in prison than on the streets. In addition, they believe decriminalizing hard drugs like heroin, meth and cocaine will end or drastically decrease racial profiling via police intervention.
Not all Oregon legislators voted for the bill. Sen. Betsy Johnson (D) argued that making drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony resembles a “hug a thug policy” supporting a misguided effort to change the prison system.
Portugal Successfully Decriminalized Drugs in 2001
In 2001 Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs, for personal use. According to this drugpolicy.org article;
“After nearly a decade and a half, Portugal has experienced no major increases in drug use. Yet it has seen reduced rates of problematic and adolescent drug use, fewer people arrested and incarcerated for drugs, reduced incidence of HIV/AIDS, reduced drug-induced deaths, and a significant increase in the number of people receiving treatment.”
The United Nations Calls For Decriminalization of Drugs
There is growing worldwide movement for drug decriminalization. On June 27th 2017, the United Nations issued a “Joint United Nations statement on ending discrimination in health care settings”. Within that position paper the UN called for:
- “Reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes and that counter established public health evidence. These included drug use or possession of drugs for personal use…”
Treating Drug Abuse As a Disease Not a Crime
According the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, both drug addiction & alcoholism are considered to be treatable diseases. Jody Rich, an epidemiologist at Brown Medical School, in this NPR article, said:
“Most people that are involved in the drug trade are involved in the drug trade because of the disease of addiction they have themselves, and they’re just trying to get by the best anyway they can. You can’t treat this disease effectively by locking people up. Recidivism rates are through the roof. That’s the definition of insanity. Keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. People with opiate use disorder get out of the correctional system and relapse. Cutting down the illicit drug trade means getting more of those incarcerated people into treatment.”
Marijuana Decriminalization in the U.S.
Currently, 22 states have decriminalized possession, cultivation and use of marijuana. Decriminalization means you will not be arrested if you are found by law enforcement to have marijuana on your person. However, you may be fined as much as $500 and charged with a misdemeanor. In addition, most states with decriminalized marijuana laws only allow you to have up to one ounce of pot before you may be charged with a felony.
The Pros of Drug Decriminalization
Proponents of decriminalizing drugs claim the following:
Decrease in crimes associated with drug-related disputes. Many thefts, shootings and other retaliatory violence caused by drug deals gone bad would diminish and allow law enforcement to concentrate on more serious crimes such as rape, child abuse and murder.
Would provide a significant source of revenue for the state. Regulating and taxing drugs could help solve financial problems suffered by all states.
The war on drugs has been a complete failure. Legalizing drugs would not only save taxpayers hundred of thousands of dollars each year but free up resources that could be used to hire more police officers to further help reduce serious crimes and make high-crime areas safer for residents.
Decriminalizing drugs will put many (but not all) drug dealers out of business. In fact, the biggest opponents of legalizing drugs are not law enforcement officers but drug dealers. They know they would be losing a huge chunk of their income if states made it legal for residents to buy and use drugs.
The Cons of Drug Decriminalization
Opponents of drug decriminalization claim the following:
Marijuana leads to use of harder drugs. Although it’s still a highly debatable topic, marijuana use as a stepping-stone to harder drugs is one of the first arguments posed by opponents of legalizing pot.
People on drugs are more likely to drive while under the influence. Drivers on the road who are high on heroin or cocaine, combined with alcohol-intoxicated drivers, could double or triple the number of accidents and fatalities in the U.S. annually.
Legalizing drugs increases the likelihood of drugs being more accessible to children and teenagers. Many young adults are not that much more mature than older adolescents and might be tempted to purchase decriminalized or legalized drugs for younger people.
Keeping drug possession, sale and use a felony means law enforcement can continue taking dangerous criminals into custody. Individuals known for trafficking in drugs frequently supply the streets with a variety of illegal drugs. In addition, when drug dealers want to cop a plea, they can assist the DEA in capturing members of violent drug cartels by snitching on them.