2019.07.10.EMG.BRS.BallotBox-2.JPG (copy)

(Brad Smith/Emerald)

In the November elections, Oregonians passed Ballot Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small quantities of hard drugs such as heroin, meth and cocaine. Though this measure could be seen as a step backward for drug laws, it is actually a big step forward for public health and addiction treatment.

For years the war on drugs has been taking casualties both in the streets and in prisons. The Federal Bureau of Prisons shows drug offenses make up 46% of their inmate population. The trafficking of drugs across US borders leads to violence on both ends of the transaction as federal agents treat drug dealers like terrorists.

The decriminalization initiative passed by Oregon this last November is a step in the right direction for America as a whole. The initiative includes the creation of a support system for addicts that is free of charge. Oregon will be the first to transition from a punishment-based system to a support-based system for individuals with drug offenses.

It has been clear for a long time now that the war on drugs is ineffective and harmful to the American people. In 2013 the American Public Health Association called the war on drugs “severely flawed.”

As both the war on drugs and drugs themselves continued to claim the lives of thousands of people, the Global Commission on Drug Policy stepped up and called for drug decriminalization in 2017. This was a response to the opioid epidemic that has been sweeping our nation, and it is the first suggested legal action that makes treating addiction the priority rather than punishment.

People who disagree with this sentiment would say that prison discourages drug use. There is still serious support for this perspective, as well as fear that this ballot measure is the beginning of radical changes to drug laws. Some even argue that this ballot measure is bad for children as it puts them at risk of addiction earlier.

Funding for the new support systems will come from tax on legal marijuana, as well as money that would be spent on arrests and incarceration. It is important these services are free because many people with addiction issues in other places do not pursue treatment because of the costs.

It is important to remember that these drugs have been decriminalized, but having them is still illegal. The ballot measure specifies that the quantity of drugs must be small, and even when it is a small enough amount there is still a $100 fine.

The best example of another government following a similar course of action is Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs back in 2001. Since then, opioid deaths have fallen, showing that there is hope for this drug treatment strategy.

In a few years’ time, when more data can be collected and analysed about Oregon’s drug use and treatment, it will be clear that this ballot measure was a step in the right direction. With the support of data from our own experience, hopefully Oregon will get other states thinking about their drug laws and treatment of addicts.