On November 3rd, Oregon made history by passing the first state to pass a measure decriminalizing all drugs, with 1,333,268 voters (58.46%) in favor of the measure.
Measure 110 redefines personal drug possession offense law. With this law, possession of controlled substances in Schedule I-IV, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, was reclassified from a Class A misdemeanor (one year in prison and a $6,250 fine) to a Class E violation ($100 fine or a health assessment).
According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, it is estimated that convictions for possessions of controlled substances in Oregon will decrease by 90.7%. The health assessments include a substance use disorder screening. These health assessments are assessed at addiction recovery centers by certified drug and alcohol and drug counselors.
This measure being passed is extremely important in ending the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was a government-led initiative to end the use of illegal drugs. This initiative began in the 1970s and still has major impacts on drug laws today. The tactic of reducing illegal drug use was increasing drug possession arrests and penalties of drug possession. The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected the Black community. The problem with locking people up for drug offenses is that it doesn’t effectively or properly dismantle the root of the problem.
When you look at drug addictions as crimes rather than an addiction, it doesn’t necessarily change the behavior. What happens when they get out of prison? It is more likely that they will commit the same offense after release. Looking at drug addiction as a health problem rather than a crime is so important. Measure 110 allows us to look at drug addictions as a health problem rather than a crime by getting people the help they need and providing resources rather than locking them up in prisons.
A common misconception about this bill is that Measure 110 will legalize drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Measure 110 does not legalize these drugs. Having possession of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines is still illegal.
Instead of legalization, these drugs are only decriminalized, meaning you wouldn’t be arrested for possessing a small amount of the drug. For example, when you’re driving ten miles over the speed limit, you might get a fine, but you usually wouldn't be arrested because most people would agree that would be an unusual punishment. This has the same concept when in possession of a small amount of the substance. People who are in possession of large amounts of the substance or distributing the substance they would be likely arrested.
Measure 110 will hopefully have positive consequences on Oregon's criminal justice system and public health. Oregon will serve as an example for drug decriminalization for other states. Hopefully, Oregon will be the start to a pathway of drug decriminalization on a federal level. Only time will tell in the coming years.
Audrie Fox is a junior at Centennial High School and serves as the Amplify Co-Director of Policy for Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.