Last Monday, Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs, treating it as a civil infraction that carries a financial fine and the possibility of evasion with a “health assessment.”
“We know that punishment for addiction doesn’t work and doesn’t improve outcomes for people,” Steve Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), said in a statement.
Allen acknowledges that the law comes into effect at a critical time as overdoses have skyrocketed 70% in the state since the covid-19 pandemic began in March of last year.
Measure 110, which passed last November and created a major controversy in the state, means that police will no longer be able to arrest an individual for possession of small amounts of drugs for self-consumption such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, MDMA or opiates such as oxycodone.
Individuals will face a fine of up to $100 for this offense, which can be avoided if the person agrees to be part of a rehabilitation program.
The goal of the law’s promoters is to prioritize the treatment of people fighting an addiction rather than punishing them with prison sentences or a criminal record that would make it difficult for them to fully reintegrate into society.
Oregon is already a pioneer in drug possession laws, since in 1973 it became the first U.S. territory to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
It is precisely the funds obtained from the state tax on marijuana that will pay for the rehabilitation programs promoted by this new measure, whose centers will have to be in operation as of October 1st, according to the provision.