In the first legislation of its kind in the United States, Oregon has passed a bill to decriminalize hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, MDMA, LSD, and methamphetamine. While some may view Measure 110 as the wrong thing to do since the use of those drugs have often led to downward spirals in the lives of some users, proponents of the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act say by decriminalizing hard drugs, the law “will greatly expand access to drug treatment and recovery services throughout the state, using funds from Oregon’s existing marijuana tax.”
The goal, according to Treatment for a Better Oregon, is to save money and save lives. They will be able to do that in part, proponents say, because “people suffering from addiction are more effectively treated with health care services than with criminal punishments,” according to the language in the measure.
Under Measure 110, tax money from the booming marijuana industry in Oregon will be put toward funding more treatment options for drug addicts. According to Willamette Week, Oregon has one of the highest drug abuse problems in the nation.
Specifically, Willamette Week reports Oregon is number one in the country for marijuana and pain reliever misuse. It’s number two for methamphetamine abuse and number four for cocaine and alcohol abuse. The state comes in at number 21 for heroin misuse.
According to KATU, “Oregon has one of the highest addiction rates of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and Oregon ranks 50th in access to treatment.”
The legislation will not protect drug dealers, manufacturers or traffickers, or anyone with a large amount of drugs in their possession. Devon Downeysmith, the ‘Yes on Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act’ communications director told KATU:
We emphasize that this does not change the fact that manufacturing, dealing, delivering large quantities of drugs, DUI – all of those things are still a crime. This is just the average person who has an addiction who has a small possession of drugs on them where they’ll be offered the opportunity to get help rather than being taken to jail.
Some Say Measure 110 Means Well but It May Not Do Much to Help Addicts
Mike Marshall, the executive director of a leading addiction recovery advocacy group called Oregon Recovers, opposed the measure. He told KATU:
We all support decriminalization. The notion that people are criminalized because they suffer from the disease of addiction is just fatally flawed. It’s a consequence of both the war on drugs and the stigma assigned to addiction. In an effort to address the War on Drugs, [Measure 110] undermines our efforts to end Oregon’s addiction crisis.
Their goal is to move people out of the criminal justice system into the health care system. But the health care system isn’t ready to receive them.
Former Oregon Governor and Emergency Room Doctor John Kitzhaber also opposed Measure 110, saying in a statement, “Measure 110, as written, makes it more difficult to treat the underlying addiction that leads to drug use in the first place.”
While Kitzhaber said he agrees with the goal to “help reverse the disaster caused by the War on Drugs, which incarcerated people suffering from addiction and had a disproportionate impact on Black and Indigenous people and other communities of color,” he doesn’t believe Measure 110 has the teeth to do that.
According to Kitzhaber:
Over the next three years, Measure 110 will divert $90 million from schools and $56 million from addiction treatment and prevention to fund 16 screening and referral centers and a grant program managed by 18 volunteers appointed by the Oregon Health Authority—with no concrete goals or objectives for ending the state’s addiction crisis. And the measure does not require the creation of any new treatment capacity. We don’t need more screening and referrals in Oregon, we need more prevention and treatment.
President Richard Nixon Declared a War on Drugs in 1971 Yet in 2017 the United States Had the Most Overdose Deaths In the World
President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971 during a tumultuous time in which the so-called counter-culture who opposed the Vietnam War caused civil upheaval. Drug use was often a part of the counter-culture, and the effort to control drug use was indirectly a measure to control people who the Nixon administration considered radicals. According to The Drug Policy Alliance:
A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted: “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
That ongoing “war” has done little to curtail drug use, but has done much to fill prisons, jails and morgues.
According to Our World in Data, in 2017 the U.S. had the highest opiate overdose death rate in the world, with 13.3 deaths per 100,000. That number was twice as the next highest country for opiate overdoses, Libya, who lost 7 people per 100,000 overdoses in the 2017 data.
“And the U.S. rate is up to 40-times higher than in some countries in Europe (like Italy, Poland or Hungary),” Our World in Data reported.
The goal of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs seeks to help users get their lives on track rather than derailing their lives by being arrested for personal drug use, or worse.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “Drug decriminalization is a critical next step toward achieving a rational drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration. Decades of evidence has clearly demonstrated that decriminalization is a sensible path forward that would reap vast human and fiscal benefits while protecting families and communities.”