Amy Unruh

On November 3, 2020, Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass the measure to decriminalize drugs. The decriminalization of drugs is a controversial topic amongst Oregonians and Americans overall. Oregon is a pioneer for the United States by being a leader in decriminalizing drugs. But many citizens remain unsure about the sustainability of the measure.

Let’s start off with the facts.

The measure was set in motion on the first of this month (February 2021) and will see that Oregon law enforcement officers can no longer arrest someone for minor possession of drugs, including cocaine, LSD, heroin, methamphetamine, methadone, oxycodone, and MDMA. Instead of going to jail, people found with drugs will face a $100 fine and/or a health assessment that could eventually take them to rehab or addiction counseling. This only applies to those found with personal use amounts of drugs, while those who are caught with larger amounts can still receive a misdemeanor charge. 

The purpose of this new law is to protect our citizens from criminalization and persecution and to alternatively give them the resources they need, whether that is rehab, therapy, or safety. One of the reasons for this new law is that The National Institute of Drug Abuse has classified addiction as a mental illness, which means it is a medical condition that can be treated, as a substitute for jail time.

Why Oregon?

You might be wondering, why did Oregon choose to be the first state to decriminalize drugs? Well, there are two reasons. Oregon has a track record of liberalizing drug laws, and we aren’t the first place to make this jump in our society.

In 1973, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession, and in 2014, voters passed a ballot legalizing recreational use of marijuana altogether. However, the progression of these laws is likely to slow because there are no plans for Oregon to legalize hard drugs any time soon.

While Oregon is the first American state to decriminalize drugs, Oregon did not jump into the deep end blindly with this law. Many countries, including Portugal, have already decriminalized small amounts of drugs. Portugal’s decriminalization brought no increase in drug use, while the number of drug-related deaths decreased. Some examples of the positive outcomes Portugal has had since the decriminalization in 2001 are that illicit drug use is low compared to the European average, and the use of cocaine amongst 15 to 34 year-olds is 0.3% in comparison to 2.1% throughout Europe. Because Portugal shows impressive statistics since decriminalizing drugs, Oregon has an example to follow and strives for similar results.

What About the Money?

With every new bill, measure, or law that goes into effect comes the need for funding. A large portion of the funding will come from Oregon’s multi-million-dollar marijuana tax revenue. A product of the new law is that one treatment facility must be established in every coordinated care service area. Because of this, the money that was previously used for drug law enforcement, which is now minimized, will be redirected to funding for new drug treatment centers. Aside from new treatment centers, this money will also be delegated towards housing and job assistance for drug users who are trying to get back on their feet.

Pros

The Spectator interviewed a Salem Police Officer, who stated, “In terms of benefits to drug investigators, I think decriminalization may provide us with the ability to spend more time going after the larger profile drug crime targets…” There are many additional pros to the decriminalization of drugs which are the reasons why the bill was passed by 55.8% of Oregon voters. 

  1. For young people, banning a behavior can make it more attractive. Therefore, defining drug addiction as a health condition that can be treated as opposed to a crime could make it less appealing.
  2. Now that law enforcement doesn’t have to focus as much on minor drug possessions, they can focus more on prevention and solving other crimes like homicide.
  3. People struggling from substance abuse can get the help they need in treatment facilities, and are much more likely to recover that way than in jail.
  4. People of color are much more likely to be given harsh consequences and be treated unfairly for drug-related crimes.
  5. Arresting and prosecuting the high number of drug users for small offenses becomes expensive.

Cons

Valid arguments against decriminalization are made and deserve to be taken into consideration as well as the pros. For instance,the officer from the Salem Police Department expressed his personal opinion. He says “I have seen first hand how crimes like theft, burglary, robbery, and even violent assaults and murders are all related to the drug trade.” Street users often resort to crimes like theft when they have spent everything on drugs and have no money left. The officer also told the Titan Spectator, “I believe mid to upper level drug traffickers will view decriminalization as an invitation to bring larger quantities of drugs into our community.” Similar arguments against decriminalization are:

  1. People with a genetic history surrounding addiction may be more likely to try out new drugs with the knowledge that they won’t be punished.
  2. Oregon’s existing treatment facilities and supports are not large enough to handle the big increase of patients that are expected to arrive with the new law set in motion.
  3. With the increase in minor possessions of drugs on the streets, prices of drugs will fall, meaning a spike in usage may occur.
  4. The new measure may make people think that dangerous drugs are acceptable because there is less punishment.
  5. There is concern that fewer criminal punishments for drugs will put children in danger of being targeted for drug sales, and could lead to an increase of unpredictable behavior on the streets caused by drugs, meaning children are more at risk of being harassed.

There are many factors to consider when forming your opinion about Oregon being the first U.S. state to decriminalize drugs. There aren’t necessarily only two sides to this topic. It will take experiencing our faults and triumphs to figure out if this law will be worth it. Nevertheless, Oregon is a pioneer for the country, and it will take time, knowledge, dedication, and leadership to carry out the law through all the positive and potential negative effects associated with decriminalizing drugs.

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Hi! My name is Amy Unruh and I am a Freshman at West Salem High School. I am new to the Titan Spectator, and I’m excited to have an impact on the community through this platform. I am also a part of the yearbook staff at West as well as choir. Outside of school I love to spend quality time with my family and volunteer in the community to help make a difference in the world however I can.