Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization Policy: What You Should Know

  • November 19, 2020
Drugs that have been illegal in the US for decades are now legal in Oregon, leaving many to wonder whether this will really have the positive impacts Oregon voters expect it to.

With the recent passing of Oregon Measure 110, Oregon voters allowed for the decriminalization of “hard” drugs like heroin, cocaine, and meth. More specifically, the bill stops people who possess small amounts of these usually illegal drugs from being imprisoned, with the punishment for being caught with them being a minor fine. It also reduces the punishment for being found with larger amounts of the drug.

Additionally, the Measure aims to redistribute tax revenue made from the sales of marijuana (which has so far amounted to more than $133 million in 2020 alone according to statistics provided by the state of Oregon) to fund addiction recovery centers and services. Oregon is the first state to do this, so their actions may set a precedent for other states, which is why the new policy is important to understand.

Those who advocated for this policy brought up the fact that the rates of addiction and drug use are still significant among Americans, despite the strict policies that have been enforced throughout the nation for almost 50 years. They argued that the fact that drugs have remained a huge problem in the United States proves that the harsh penalties did not affect people who use drugs. The imprisonment of drug-users does not achieve the intended goal of reducing the number of people who use drugs: it just removes drug-users who will soon be replaced by others. Moreover, prisons become more expensive for taxpayers the more prisoners there are to be taken care of, and the overcrowding of prisons makes things more dangerous for the inmates themselves. 

Another important point in the argument of proponents of this new measure is that addiction is a disorder and not necessarily a choice, an idea that is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Because drug abuse is a medical condition, they believe that the only way to solve this problem is to create places where people can be treated, instead of punishing them for something they can’t control.

However, there are still people who are against this new policy. Many critics claim that making these drugs legal will lower their prices and thus make them more accessible, and could cause other drug dealers to move into the area since they now won’t face such extreme punishment. Others could also misinterpret the passing of the bill to mean that it is safe for them to start selling drugs. All of this could raise the rates of drug use. 

Additionally, there is no way of forcing people to go to these addiction recovery centers besides a small fine. Some argue that, even though drug addiction may not be a choice, addicts continue with this behavior because it makes them feel better, a fact that may be seen as a benefit that outweighs any benefit that comes from going to those places. Many people support addiction recovery efforts but just feel that this bill won’t be effective in that goal. They claim that it still doesn’t speak to the issue of limited access to the necessary treatment facilities and that even if they can go to the treatment centers, many addicts may still not be properly helped. 

Drug addiction is not something that can be fixed in one fell swoop, and a lack of follow-through on behalf of the treatment centers could do nothing to solve the problem. Another concern is that the bill could undermine local work already being done to solve this problem.

This bill was passed with a narrow majority, and the debate over drug decriminalization is by no means over. It is important to consider both sides when formulating a viewpoint because this is a significant decision that could heavily impact the way we operate as a country.

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