UPDATE, 11:58 p.m.: Oregon has approved election initiative Measure 110 to decriminalize all drugs.
Oregon could take a big first step towards ending the war on drugs in November. Voters decide whether the state will decriminalize all drugs – including cocaine and heroin – through the Election Initiative Measure 110.
In addition to decriminalizing all drugs, the move would generate savings from enforcement reductions and combine these with sales tax revenues from marijuana, which is currently legal in the state, to fund a new drug addiction treatment and recovery program. In essence, Measure 110 is an attempt to replace the criminal law approach to drugs with a public health approach.
It's important to note that decriminalization is very different from legalization. Decriminalization generally means lifting criminal penalties – particularly imprisonment – for possession and use of a drug, but not legalizing sales. So people wouldn't be arrested for containing small amounts of heroin or cocaine, but don't expect stores to show up that sell either substance legally.
Proponents of decriminalization argue that substance abuse and drug addiction are public health problems and not problems for the criminal justice system. They claim the criminal ban results in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary, racially biased arrests in the U.S. each year – an expensive endeavor that drains police resources and contributes to mass incarceration that does little to help people with addictions. Instead, they advocate providing resources for education, treatment and harm reduction services. In the meantime, other laws remain on the books to address crime or violence arising from drugs.
Opponents argue that decriminalization would remove a strong deterrent against trying and consuming drugs and potentially encourage more drug use and addiction. They claim that criminal penalties related to drug possession can also be effectively used by drug courts to encourage people to seek addiction treatment they would otherwise not accept. To the extent that there are racial differences in such arrests, they argue that this is a problem of law enforcement bias and systemic racism across American society in general that is not necessarily due to the drug ban itself.
Some critics separately ask whether the election initiative would really provide sufficient funds for addiction treatment. The campaign behind the measure claims, citing government analysis, that it would effectively quadruple government funding, particularly for recovery services.
Oregon would be the first state to decriminalize all drugs. To date, the most aggressive steps states have taken to roll back the war on drugs are, too Legalize marijuana and defelon all drugs that may still result in criminal penalties such as jail or jail time. However, the actual decriminalization of drugs has not yet been tried in the USA.
Still, Oregon wouldn't be the first place to decriminalize drugs. Portugal deserved this in 2001 much from continuation Media coverage (also at Vox). The effects seem to be positive on the net: combined with increasing drug addiction treatment and harm reduction, decriminalization seemed to lead to more lifelong drug use overall but less problematic use.
Such an approach could lead to different results in the US. Supporters hope that Oregon voters will at least be willing to try. If voters accept the approach and it works, anti-bans could use Oregon to advocate reducing the war on drugs more broadly – similar to the approach they have taken Marijuana policy.
Oregon Measure 110
A yes vote to Measure 110 would decriminalize all drugs, including cocaine and heroin, and redirect the savings – along with sales tax revenues from marijuana, which is currently legal in the state – to setting up a drug addiction treatment and recovery program.
A no would mean no changes to drug enforcement in the state.
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