Oregon Drug Decriminalization 2020: Will This Make Addiction Problems Worse?


The 2020 election has been an ongoing process that shocked the world. Many of the propositions and amendments passed by citizens have made the year even crazier than we could have thought. While the focus has been shifted toward the race for president, a measure passed, known as Oregon Measure 110, a Drug Decriminalization Act and Addiction Treatment Initiative, which shocked the country to its core. A staggering 58 percent of Oregonians approved the measure. Although the initiative’s purpose was to battle drug addiction, it’s worth wondering if there will be implications attached to drug decriminalization.

What Is Decriminalization?

It’s a term used to describe lesser penalties for illegal actions. When it comes to battling drugs, it means that possession for personal use is no longer looked at as a crime. The new measure in Oregon isn’t the first time an illegal substance has been decriminalized – marijuana was the first drug in a handful of states to be decriminalized. Oregon is the first state to take it a step further and decriminalize all drugs, meaning safer substances like marijuana and other hazardous drugs like heroin or fentanyl fall under the same umbrella.

We should note, however, that drugs aren’t legal in Oregon. Decriminalization and legalization are two completely different terms. If you are caught selling or possessing large amounts of a drug, you are still subject to arrest. The difference is if you’re caught with a small amount of drugs used for personal use. You will be subject to a fine as opposed to jail time and a criminal record.

What Is Measure 110?

Measure 110 is intended to make personal drug possession a non-criminal offense. It will make drug possession a Class E misdemeanor, meaning you can expect a maximum fine of up to $100 if you’re caught. Personal drug possession was once considered a Class A misdemeanor in Oregon, meaning violators could receive a $6,250 fine and a year in prison.

What Are the Advantages of Measure 110?

Whether you support or disagree with Measure 110, the idea behind the notion is to remove prisons as a response to drug addiction. The idea is to keep those struggling with addiction outside of the prison cycle.

Addiction is a disease, not a choice, and the proponents of the measure argue that jail time and criminal records can be detrimental to individuals struggling with substance use disorders (SUDs). The laws target minorities and those in poverty, and decriminalizing drugs is designed to lower the prison system’s financial burden caused by overwhelming numbers of drug charges. It is meant to save money to fight addiction and prevent overdoses.

Opponents of the measure voiced their displeasures and how it could enable drug users. Without prison serving as a deterrent, people are free to use drugs without issue. Police encounters could save someone from an overdose or get them the help they need and save their life.

Does Prison Make Substance Use Problems Worse?

The United States prison population is massive, and the unusually high numbers are directly linked to drug addiction and substance abuse. Although it’s a challenge to produce definitive figures about how many people in prison struggle with substance abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates it’s around 65 percent. Another 20 percent who aren’t considered to have a substance use disorder were drunk or high when committing their crime.

Treating someone in prison with a drug or alcohol problem is more effective than doing nothing. However, the issue is that someone in jail for a drug-related offense will have barriers toward success later in their lives. The prison populations have also grown substantially with stringent drug laws throughout the country. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) showed that increasing the severity of a punishment isn’t an effective deterrent to crime or drug use. The rest of the country will now watch Oregon to see if these lax laws are more effective than traditional punishment for drug use.

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