Nearly two people die every day from drug overdoses in Oregon. One out of 11 Oregonians suffer from addiction. The state also ranks last in the nation among states in access to drug treatment and recovery services for adults, according to a federal government survey on national drug use.
This fall, it might become the first state in the nation to decriminalize drug possession. Initiative 44, which will be on the ballot in November, would end the criminalization of simple drug possession of small amounts of all drugs by changing the penalties from felonies and misdemeanors to a $100 administrative fine. The initiative would also use excess tax money from the sale of legal marijuana to fund a new drug treatment, recovery and harm reduction program outside of the criminal justice system. The fine could be waived if the recipient chooses to undergo a voluntary treatment assessment under the new system.
“What we’re trying to do is put drug use back where it belongs, which is under that public health scope and completely remove it from the criminal justice system,” said Matt Sutton, a spokesman for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national harm reduction nonprofit backing Initiative 44.
The decriminalization of drugs in Oregon would mark a significant shift toward ending the nation’s half-century war on drugs, which is largely waged to the detriment of Black, Latino and other minority communities. One of the demands of the Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has been the restructuring of the relationship between the police and communities of color. The decriminalization of drugs and creation of a treatment system separate from the criminal justice system would be one step in that direction.
The initiative’s success could lead other states to follow suit, as previous drug liberalization initiatives have done.
“Like we’ve seen with medical cannabis and cannabis legalization, the success in one state will...