News/Op-Ed: Oregon Becomes The First State To Decriminalize Hard Drug Use In The United States

by Zachary Gardiner

Last Wednesday, possession of small amounts of drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine will no longer be punishable by jail time in Oregon, instead people will receive something similar to a traffic ticket

The passage of the measure makes Oregon, which in 1973 became the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession, a pioneer in America in trying the same with extremely harmful drugs. The measure takes effect 30 days after Tuesday’s election, but the punishment changes don’t take effect until Feb. 1. 

By favoring rehabilitation over incarceration, the measure prevents recovering drug users from being stigmatized by employers, lenders and landlords for years, and gives them the ability to pull themselves out of a cycle of drug-related criminality. 

Under the measure, people who possess larger quantities of illicit drugs could still face misdemeanor  chargers and felony charges would apply to people who are alleged to possess enough drugs to sell. 

Some proponents of decriminalizing drug addiction warn that Oregon’s ballot measure tears down an intricate system of getting people addiction treatment, replacing it with what they call a blunt instrument. Opponents of the measure said what passed Tuesday doesn’t address long-standing issues surrounding access to treatment. 

Mike Marshall, co-founder and director of Oregon Recovers, said the measure threatens to replace addiction treatment infrastructure with a system that compels people to get assessments, but not actual treatment. He accused Measure 110’s marketing campaign of misleading Oregonians about weakened safeguards with regard to teenage drug use.

“The net effect of it is to take away a pathway to treatment for a bunch of people in Oregon,” Marshall said, emphasizing that it was a way for ballot supporters to win decriminalization, “locking people up because they’re addicted to substances is not a place you want to go to, but in the moment it’s interrupting their use and it’s getting them a pathway to treatment.”

In an effect to revolutionize the social stigma of drug use around the world, Oregon is close to becoming an influential hub in transforming normally considered “taboo” topics into the norm.

As many criticize Oregon, the possibility for a different point of view in the topic of drug abuse will stay a relevant topic in the coming years as a response to this measure.

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