2020 has spawned a number of firsts and unparalleled events. Keeping in step with that trend, the State of Oregon is moving forward with another unprecedented action. In what’s being hailed as a key step in dismantling the war on drugs, Oregon voters approved a measure in early November to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of narcotics. Known as Measure 110, this initiative was approved by 58% of voters. While possessing large quantities of drugs still remains illegal, smaller personal quantities will be punishable with merely a citation akin to receiving a traffic ticket.
The First Of Its Kind
While a number of countries throughout the world have taken the uncommon step of decriminalizing drug possession, Oregon is the first U.S. state to do so. The voter-approved measure was billed as an alternative approach to the war on drugs which has largely been viewed as an abject failure. Lawmakers and voters alike have pointed to a treatment and public health model as a new approach to the drug epidemic that has swept through the nation in recent years. Notably, the measure also seeks to shift the criminal justice system’s response towards drug possession and addiction. By eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs, the measure looks to address the root causes of addiction and to change the narrative surrounding the negative stigma associated with treatment and recovery. Proponents of the measure believe that treatment and recovery is only hampered by adding in the often long-lasting and potentially counterproductive effects of a criminal conviction.
There is a consensuses that there needs to be a change in how our society handles drug addiction, but there are different schools of thought on how to accomplish this. Many believe that this change needs to move people experiencing addiction out of the criminal justice system and into the health care sphere. Opponents of Measure 110 do not believe that the health care and drug treatment community is prepared to handle the demands of this new approach. They argue that the measure will overwhelm existing health care and treatment resources and will impair an established, effective pathway toward treatment. Without a vast expansion of treatment and healthcare programs, critics suggest that the new measure is premature.
Marijuana Tax Revenue Being Used To Fund Treatment
In response to some of the criticism surrounding the measure, lawmakers have directed that the funding for drug treatment is to be taken specifically from the revenue generated in the state from legal marijuana sales. Roughly $100 million generated from the marijuana tax will be used to fund more beds, housing, and pathways to drug treatment. And with marijuana tax revenue experiencing year over year growth, it is anticipated that even more funding will be available as sales continue to climb.
Measure 110 does not take effect until February 2021, so implementation remains an ongoing process. Lawmakers are hopeful that Measure 110 will not only change the conversation surrounding addiction but will also benefit the state as a whole. As Oregon embarks on an uncharted journey, other states are watching in hopes that they too can implement this model if successful.