Oregon Becomes First State to Decriminalize Possession of Drugs

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A full syringe, empty syringe and spoon sit on the roof of the car in which a man in his 20’s overdosed on an opioid in the Boston suburb of Lynn, Mass., August 14, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and other drugs will no longer serve as a reason for arrest in Oregon after a ballot measure decriminalizing them went into place Monday.

Instead of arrest, individuals found to be in possession of drugs would be subject to a $100 fine or a health assessment that could lead to addiction counseling, according to the Associated Press.

Those found with personal-use amounts of drugs would face a civil citation, “like a traffic ticket,” and not a criminal citation, according to Matt Sutton, a spokesman for the Drug Policy Alliance, which spearheaded the ballot initiative.

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“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 Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Supporters of Ballot Measure 110, which passed by a wide margin in November, have said treatment should be the priority, not criminalization, which they say is not working.

However, two dozen district attorneys had opposed the measure, calling it a reckless move that would lead to an increase in the acceptability of dangerous drugs.

As part of the measure, addiction recovery centers will be funded by millions of dollars of tax revenue from the state’s legalized marijuana industry and charged with “triaging the acute needs of people who use drugs and assessing and addressing any on-going needs thorough intensive case management and linkage to care and services.”

Addiction recovery centers must be available by October 1, with one center established within each existing coordinated care organization service area. 

The measure shifts some of the pot tax revenue funds from schools and other programs and entities that already receive it and limits the amount of marijuana tax revenue that schools; mental health alcoholism and drug services; the state police; and cities and counties receive at $45 million annually, with the rest going to a “Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund.” 

In the 2020 fiscal year, pot tax revenues increased 30 percent over the previous year, bringing in $133 million, a 545 percent increase over 2016 when the taxes first began being collected.

With the decriminalization, roughly 3,700 fewer Oregonians will be convicted of felony or misdemeanor possession of controlled substances per year, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.

Oregon has a long history of progressive drug laws: in 1973 it became the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession and in 2014 voters passed a ballot measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

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